Algae Biofuels - The Hype, the Hope, the Promise

Thomas Schueneman

A review of the proceeding of the pre-conference briefing of the Algae Biofuel World Summit in San Francisco

The Algae Biofuels World Summit concluded this week in San Francisco. I was on-hand and on assignment for Triple Pundit Monday at the day long pre-conference briefing featuring leaders in research, government, and business involved in pushing the infant industry toward commercial-scale production.

A typical raceway pond, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

It was a sobering day for me, as it became clear that much of what is bandied about on blogs and in the mainstream media (to the extent algal biofuel research gets any coverage in the mainstream media) is wild-eyed optimism and pure hype. No, you can produce 15,000 gallons of algae biofuel per acre per year; no, algae biofuel will not replace oil all by itself - and the list goes on.

The plain reality is that producing algae biofuel at a commercial scale is not a given, it will not be cheap or easy, and a lot more R&D needs to be done before any real hope of algae biofuel being more than an experimental or "boutique" fuel is realized.

Wow, I'm a bit of a downer today, aren't I? Not really, any successful path to grasping the true potential of algae biofuel rests in a clear-headed assessment of the challenges ahead. To be sure they are several and significant, but just as sure, it is worth it, if done right.

That's what the Algae Biofuels Summit was all about, and my peek at the briefing on Monday laid out the hype, the hope, and the promise of algae biofuel, as seen by the men and women working every day on the problem.

For a full rundown of the key points from the briefing, check out my post on TriplePundit

" studies do not conclude that we can or will actually be able to produce algal oil/biodiesel. They conclude that the R&D to develop such processes can be justified, at least until it can be demonstrated to be impossible" Dr. John Benemann, Benemann Associates


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Thomas Schueneman