Tuesday, November 04, 2008

UK Gets Serious About Algae Biofuel

The Carbon Trust is a private company which works across a wide range of sectors to reduce carbon emissions across the UK. They conduct studies, lend money and come up with national initiatives – like the algae biofuel initiative announced yesterday. The Algae Biofuels Challenge, as they call it, is to commercialize algae biofuel by 2020 and have it provide a significant of the country’s fuel needs (70 billion liters of oil).

Algae is the favored biofuels candidate, mostly because it takes few resources to grow and does not compete for food production; a major drawback of conventional biofuels. The choice of algae is not surprising; algae biofuel startups are appearing in the US on a fairly regular basis. What makes this initiative particularly exciting is that it provides a clear cut vision of how to bring algae fuel from the lab to commercialization.

To that end, The Algae Biofuels Challenge has delineated two major goals: first figuring out which algae technology really works the best, and subsequently figuring out how to bring that technology to scale. Unlike the American market leaders such as Amyris, Petrosun and Solazyme, The Carbon Trust has not committed to anything yet – which strain of algae, how to grow it, etc. Instead, they hope to recruit some of the top algae scientists in the world to work together on the issue. They will address the second step, bringing the fuel to scale, in the same way.

The algae fuel industry is still young, and we don’t really know whether it will be a success. It is possible that an American company will come up with an idea that the Carbon Trust’s people do not think of. Still, I consider the Algae Biofuels Challenge a refreshingly different approach to the issue – rather than waiting for the Google of algae to descend from the heavens, the UK approach is to establish a center where many people work towards a common goal

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