Response to Green Algae Strategy Review

I have received a response from Mark Edwards, auther of Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports And Engineer Sustainable Food And Fuel. I reviewed the book here recently, and as I indicated in the conclusion of the review I would gladly post any of Mark's comments. So, here they are in full. I have added clarifications, such as to indicate when Mark is quoting me [e.g., RR quote]. I have otherwise tried to keep the formatting consistent with what Mark sent me. No further response from me.

Response to Green Algae Strategy Review

Thank you for the review and the opportunity to respond to your thoughtful comments. Your observations are right on target for someone focused on algal oil as a liquid transportation fuel.

Remember that food energy is actually more important to humans that liquid transportation fuels. We can survive without transportation assistance but we starve quickly without food energy. I see no way to produce algae economically purely for liquid transportation fuels. The only way production makes sense will be to grow massive amounts of algae biomass, harvest the lipids for transportation energy and use the protein and carbohydrates to produce additional forms of energy, including especially food and feed.

RR quote: “Either Mark Edwards is dead wrong, or I am dead wrong.”

On the future of any topic, especially science, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Skeptics abound in the algae space and the leading skeptic, Dr. John Benemann, speaks at all the algae conferences and stands in stark contrast to many other equally experienced scientists who do not share his natural pessimism. John revels in his reputation for pessimism. Other scientists engaged in the Aquatic Species Report have a completely opposite view. Several are working for companies that are producing algae for fuel. Professor Milton Sommerfeld at ASU and a co-author on the Report, has been producing algal oil for jet fuel in the laboratory and a field setting for several years.

Speculation on cost per gallon of algal oil is useless until we see actual field production. The good news on this front is that I have seen the following:

• Cost reduction of algal oil production -- one order of magnitude in the last two years
• Cost reduction on algal extraction -- two new methods promise two orders of magnitude
• Cost reduction on energy for mixing -- one order of magnitude in the last two years

These cost reductions will be reflected in various producers’ cost models. American scientists and engineers are exceptionally talented at taking costs out of production.

The real question is not the cost of algal oil per gallon but the value of the total culture. The best production models I've reviewed have only about 30% of the algal biomass value going to fuel. That means 70% of the biomass produces other coproducts from the protein and carbohydrates. Those many coproducts are examined in analyzed in Chapters 7 and 10 in Green Algae Strategy.

Green solar energy captured in algae creates a portable energy source and grows biomass with solar energy stored in forms that may be used for a variety of purposes:

• People – organic protein in food
• Animals – organic protein in fodder
• Fowl – natural protein for birds
• Fish – natural protein in fish feed
• Land plants – organic nitrogen fertilizer
• Fire – high energy algal oil for cooking and heating
• Cars – carbohydrates refined to gasoline for transportation
• Trucks and tractors – high energy clean, green diesel
• Trains, boats, barges and ships – high energy clean diesel
• Planes – high energy, clean aviation gas and jet fuel

Algae also offer low energy and low cost pollution solutions to clean waste, brine or salt water, sequester CO2 from coal fired power plant plumes and recover abandoned soils. This presentation will highlight the status of the algal industry with a focus on food and energy.

RR quoting a study that I cited in the review: What about the value of sequestered carbon in algae-based biofuels? In short, there isn’t any. Atmospheric carbon is only sequestered for a short time until it’s burned in an engine. Under existing biofuels mandates in most industrialized countries, there will be no opportunity to sell carbon offsets unless fuel production is additional, or beyond such mandates.

This criticism ignores the fact that algae-based biofuels recycle atmospheric carbon and every gallon displaces a gallon of fossil fuel. When algal production occurs with no fossil energy, the production is carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide is simply being recycled. In contrast, cropland-based biofuels such as ethanol emits more carbon than burning natural gas directly due to the huge amounts of fossil fuels needed to produce corn.

I recently presented a paper demonstrating our work with Desert Sweet Biofuels where we produced carbon negative algal biomass by using a gasifier and creating bio-char. The gasifier burned biomass in a oxygen starved container creating hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The hydrogen was burned for energy to create electricity while the carbon dioxide was flued into algal ponds to produce algal biomass. Our calculations showed that we sequestered only about 10% of the total carbon -- the bio char that was scratched into fields. The University of Arizona is currently conducting research to see what percentage of that bio char stays in the soil and for how long. Other research suggests that much of the bio char stay sequestered for decades.

Several countries are financing gasifiers in the U.S. for algal oil production for carbon trade off-sets.

RR quote: Edwards falls prey to the Vinod Khosla fallacy on cellulosic ethanol: This is simply too important and there are too many companies working on this to fail.

Vinod Khosla gave an excellent keynote at the 2009 Algal Summit in Seattle where he outlined his reasoning for not investing in algal production. His primary points were that he needed to see actual production before making investments and that the industry needed to do a better job at conveying the value proposition for algae.

RR quote: He is sufficiently skeptical about the near term prospects for cellulosic ethanol, and is harsh in his assessment of corn ethanol (even more so than I have been).

My prior book, Biowar I: Why Battles over Food and Fuel Lead to World Hunger examines the entire ethanol fiasco including energy and cost models. BioWar I is available for free PDF download with color speaker notes at Every claim made for ethanol has turned out to be false. Consider that 2009 production of ethanol produce about 9 billion gallons of ethanol (the DOE Target) and will consume:

• 40 million acres of prime American cropland
• 2 trillion gallons of fresh water for irrigation
• 5 billion gallons of diesel fuel for corn production

The 2009 ethanol production will create severe pollution of air, water and soils while reducing imported oil by about 3%. Algal production, when commercially viable, could produce far more ethanol or other higher energy fuels using no or minimal cropland, fresh water or fossil fuels.

BioWar I covers the research on cellulosic ethanol which, for litany of reasons including that it takes too much fresh water and energy, makes no sense for biofuel production. Cellulosic products may turn out to be an excellent source of carbon for the production of algal oil. BioWar I concludes that our best policy is to end subsidies for ecologically destructive production such as ethanol and big oil and to shift subsidies to ecologically friendly production such as algal biomass. Subsidies played a key role in the review.

RR quote: He blames the lack of progress for algae on lack of funding, which is blamed on corn ethanol. This, he argues, was the politically favorable biofuel that sucked up all the R&D funding (and subsidies). He later writes “If corn ethanol makes sense, the market will reward it without taxpayer monies or protectionist tariffs.” Can’t we say the same about algal fuel?

Making corn whiskey, ethanol, is a 200-year-old technology. Subsidies are useful for changing consumer behavior and supporting new technologies. Subsidizing corn and the many inputs for growing corn for ethanol make no sense and are ecologically destructive. Algal production does not need protectionist tariffs but does need public monies to develop the knowledge base to grow massive amounts of biomass. The two top threats I see to the algal industry are subsidy-based. Lack of government subsidies, which began in the 1990’s at the end of the Aquatic Species Program led to: (Subsidies were shifted to corn ethanol.)

a. No support for academic, institute or government algal research. As a consequence, the US has few algae labs, nearly no American algal professors and very few students trained in algal production. Lack of trained scientists and graduate students put the U.S. at severe disadvantage in algal production.

b. An algal industry constrained by vertical markets. Each algal company jealously protect its intellectual property and does not share bubble research or breakthroughs. Even the scientific meetings are full of statements that the scientist cannot share real numbers because they have signed on disclosure agreements with their employers or grantors.

The R&D necessary for successful algal production will take more money than is available from private investors. Who wants to invest $500 million on R&D. Investors want a fast return and are not willing to fund sufficient R&D. Failing government subsidies, the industry will sputter for decades. Then, when humanity desperately needs sustainable food and energy solutions, we will discover that the intellectual property for production is locked up by a very few producers who monopolize production to the detriment of all humanity.

RR paraphrase: To commercially grow them in the Midwest –pipedream.

Watch. Within 10 years, most the farms in the Midwest will use algal production to:

a. Recover and recycle energy in agricultural waste streams, especially manure
b. Recover and recycle nutrients in agricultural waste streams
c. Reduce the ecological damage and carbon footprint for agricultural production

Yes, many producers may use greenhouses and geothermal energy for algal production. However, cold tolerant algal species may flourish in the Midwest especially during the normal growing season.

RR paraphrase: Energy return not covered.

Correct. No one can credibly address energy return until production specifications and costs are determined. However, the production of algal biomass using solar, wind and geothermal energy avoid the issue of fossil fuel use. Two new extraction technologies promise significant reduction in energy requirements. One method uses simple air flocculation and another uses ultrasonic waves to break up the algal cells and separate the oil from the other biomass. The ultrasonic solution allows the oil to flow to the top where it can be skimmed off at very low cost.

RR paraphrase: Casually dismiss technical challenges

The technical challenges are treated with seriousness and focus. True, most are not solved in the book. An entire chapter examines each technical challenge and what needs to be done to successfully produce algal oil. In addition, the table in the last chapter provides a summary of the technical challenges and the R&D needed.

RR quote: Page 13: As a criticism of using food crops for fuel, he states that massive planting of corn leads to high humidity because the leaves transpire water. This leads to thunderstorms and potentially tornadoes. That large areas planted in corn can increase the risk of tornadoes is something I have never heard before.

Neither had I before doing the research for BioWar I and Green Algae Strategy.

RR quote: Page 150: When writing that algal fuel mimics fossil fuels without fossilization, he writes “Skipping the fossilization step not only saves 200 million years of pressure and heat, but lowers production costs significantly.” I can’t really comprehend this one.

Consider the true cost of production for fossil fuels. Failing government subsidies, fossil fuels would cost around $15 a gallon and that’s ignoring their ecological cost. Oil fields must be found and developed at huge cost. Extraction and transportation add significant additional costs.

Imagine growing algae locally for fuel production when the inputs are only sunshine, carbon dioxide and wastewater.

RR quote: Page 179: He cites a claim by Aurora Biofuels that their process creates biodiesel with yields 125 times higher and 50% cheaper than current methods. I am going to presume that this was supposed to read 125% higher and not 125 times higher.

You are correct.

RR quoting from the book: Page 204: “When someone invents a carbon capture filter for vehicle exhaust pipes, there will be a nearly limitless supply of low-cost CO2 for growing algae.”

I think this is a great idea. A Brit has developed the vehicle exhaust filter. This is only one of many new and some recycled ideas presented to spur algal production.

Is this different than the response posted a few days (weeks?) back? I seem to recall reading his response already.

It was on my blog, but not here at TOD. It's been in the queue here since I put it up on my blog.

Thanks...couldn't recall where I had read it.

OT: aangel--
Marin Peace and Justice is having a meeting and potluck dealing with local energy issue in Marin, at Grace Lutheran Church San Anselmo, 6:30 Monday.
Most of these peoples energy literacy is very challenged, and the Sierra Club is doing providing the speaker.
If you could attend, I think you might get a greater feel of the pulse of Marin.

Hi, HT.
Alas, I can't be there tonight but sometime soon we should have a coffee together. BTW, July 2nd in SF I'm showing How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Kirsten Schwind from is going to lead a Q&A session on urban farming afterward and you're invited.

There must be a well considered approach to the consumption side in any replacement motor fuel discussion. Algal fuel discussion seems to be another case of maintaining the status quo of highway oriented transport. Just replace petroleum with a less problematic energy source, and motor on. Hopefully some following comments will look at the post WWII distribution policies, like just-in-time, that have fostered intensive restocking trips, requiring massive trucking VMT to replace stock as it is sold. Inventory tax is more than a revenue source, serving well to promote the trucking industry at cost of the in place railway infrastructure circa 1950.

Rails have been stripped mercilessly since Ike's Interstate Defense Highway Act of 1956, not only to meet trucking competition and streamline operations, but inresponse to taxing right-of way. This rr right of way levy destroyed rail's ability to offer local service enroute, and gave local communities no choice in freight service except highway, even when the rails run thru town.

Intended or not, a combination of events evolved that led President Eisenhower to exclaim about the "Military Industrial Complex" in his departing address. It must have dismayed Ike, as it dawned that the choice to shift rail distribution orientation to imported oil dependent commercial motor transport was a base element of the vast expansion of military forces needed to protect the ever increased annual oil import numbers. This is the Big Mother of Catch 22, and the reason we are frantically searching for ways to keep the rubber rolling.

Because miltary logistics are close to every president's heart regardless of their original election planks, it seems appropriate for a suggestion: Consider re-commission of the US Army National Guard Railroad Operating and Maintenance Battalions, as functioned for about 100 years, ending during the Vietnam Era. Interesting timing that, Vietnam easily shown to be an Oil War, defending the Straits of Malacca for the convenience of Royal Dutch Shell Indonesian operations. Wonder how many of the parents or brothers of the men in the casualty lists considered where the oil was coming from as they contemplated driving one of the new fleet of muscle cars in vogue right thru the VN war years? New GTO's, Corvettes, Olds 442's, 409's, Mustangs, Hemis, 6 packs and Smokey Yunick! Vrooom!

The military railway operations stateside was a silent partner with the US private carriers, seedstock for rr savvy employees. Participating men & women were disciplined in the rr rules and understood their important mission: assisting US mainline rail operations when needed during seasonal traffic surges, being part of a rich history of enabling timely recovery after storm disaster, a peaceful tool for societal and commercial cohesion when the US was a lending not a borrowing nation. As much as Ike promoted truck convoys, he also understood what the railway could do with about 1/3 the fuel. Incremental rehab of agricultural rail branchlines is useful, even as agricutural fuels sources are in experimental phase.

As one reads the various papers explaining pros & cons of this & that motor fuel replacement, it is notable to see the panorama of accompanying gimmickry needed to deal with bringing these new juices up to scale. Hopefully, some bright young people will take some time to just think and meditate on pros &cons of re-inventing US railway matrix, track footprint similar to the circa Second World War. This time around, we have perfected containerization and can eliminate much of the spur track needed when packaged freight had to be loaded in and out of boxcars. Add back a passing track in the smaller towns and cities, emplace container handling gear, and interface same with local trucking.

Crucial fact is, the railway plant is an actual working part of today's scene, as is trucking. The fuel savings comes from increasing miles hauled by rail, while decreasing miles hauled on highways. A quick and upbeat read on this subject can be found in Christopher C. Swan's "ELECTRIC WATER" (New Society Press, 2007).

EIOER is a test the railways invented. In transport, railways offer a standard for fuel consumption that cannot be ignored or wished away. US scientific community must include fair study of Asian, European rail projects underway; worldwide, strategic planners are adding to Parallel Bar Therapy.

That's a great read, but I have to call out OFF TOPIC on you, not to silence the ideas, only to say that this is a conversation that deserves to be in a post where it will get due attention.

Of course, the undermining of our great rail Infrastructure was a shame, but it was also a response against the Rail Monopolies and Tycoons, which the Highways replaced, ironically enough, with a form of 'Commons'. In rebuilding Rail, can we point it in a positive direction, such that the keepers of the access to these thoughways are inherently checked against gouging and the kind of heavy handedness that partly defined Rail in its heyday?

(Alan and others try to describe some solutions to this for me, but I need Special-Ed Remedial Level help on this stuff!)



You said, it part, "... Rail Monopolies and Tycoons, which the Highways replaced, ironically enough, with a form of 'Commons'."

That is a VERY astute observation and one that is not often enough mentioned. The highway and automobile system (including trucking) in so many ways "democratized" transportation. That is why abandoning the ownership of and operation of private cars (and trucks, by millions of small businesses) is considered such a threat to Americans. Rail is good, very good, for many things, but it is not problem free.


Part of solution is "govt. ownership" per EU. Too bad US can't learn to trust govt., (or develop a govt. worthy of?)

I have a technically oriented education and spend a LOT of time reading the various newspapers ,web sites, and magazines that cover agriculture,energy,environment,you name it-mostly for my own edification but also because I still plan on living comfortably for a while and spotting the big trends early might make all the difference.

Twenty or thirty years ago I was told by reputable journalists that the world was thoroughly explored and that there would be no more major oil finds.I believed it.

Now I read that new finds are real possibilites/actualities due to deep water tech mostly.I believe it.

(I still believe in po,and have intellectually since I can't remember when,but I have only taken the concept seriously in recent years as it didn't matter much to me as long as it was another few years away.)

No matter what I look into it seems that the issue really is in doubt,and that the results are determined as much or more by the public relations wars fought by investors,lobbyists,environmentalists,and deal cutting politicians as by the engineering and biological facts-which are themselves disputed in nearly every case,even though there may be no dispute among the technically literate in SOME cases.

I'm not a genius but I am a lot smarter than your average bear,as is the case with 99 percent of the people who post on this site.

Now if I(and I am sure many or most other OD regulars) am often confused as to the actual facts regarding many serious issues and the most likely implications thereof,what chance does Joe SixPack or your high school English teacher-who most likely has only the barest fig leaf of a science course to her credit-have of sorting out the sci fi from the science?

It is perfectably understandable that the average citizens eyes glaze over at the mere mention of most of the stuff debated here.

Now that I've had my little rant and caffiene fix I feel a little better.

Plus my algal optimism meter has moved back into the green again.

The response here to the algae book review encourages me to believe that this technology will take off.I have long thought that it would someday become viable,and the drainage end of a feedlot looks like a very good spot for it to work at a primitive or early level.Land is cheap,water is available,any feed produced need not be transported very far,and any nutrient rich sludge can be spread on corn fields a good many miles away cheaper than most other commercial fertilizers can be produced and distributed.

If it doesn't work all the time not much is lost so long as it works well enough and often enough to pay its way,as any additional cleanup and recycling is better than none.

The key FACT INVOLVED is that if this process can be tuned to capture most of the phosphorus now being lost in waste water,it will enable us to put of the day of reckoning visavis phosphorus for a few more years-perhaps even a a couple of decades if it can be adapted to sewage treatment plants on a very large scale.Phosphorus is apt to be a very expensive commodity long before then,which will help keep the investors interested.

The algal chain of IFS-the biggest two letter word- is not so long that success is an impossible long shot imo-and we need to focus all our efforts on things that can be made to work within a couple of decades or bau is toast.


Who cares about Joe 6 pak? His day has come and gone.

How long have you been reading TOD. I could be wrong but the current belief is that the world has been rather explored and what is there or not there is very well understood.

This is my take from being here about 3 years.

If you haven't been then I don't think you would be asking these questions for it has been discussed over and over beyond belief or the ability of the mind to comprehend.

And that being so we are now in the end games. This is what has caused a sea change in the essay posts on TOD. Pretty much taken for granted that its going to be real tough from here on out.

Yes there is demand destruction and it has an effect.

So better to just sit back and read and not try to bring up what has been asked and answered an incredible number of times.

DO you see cornucopians once more trodding the halls of TOD? NO. You do NOT for its pretty obvious.

Algae,windmills,PV,light rail, whatever...its picking and playing favorites now and the debates continue.

The reality , my takeaway, is get your ass ready. All else recedes to the distant view.

Airdale-of course I could be wrong, we all could be wrong but I am surely not betting my life on it. We called it WTSHTF..words I hardly ever see again since I believe it futile , but fun, to discuss the same issues over and over and over....but have at it anyway....its only bits and bytes and the Debil take the hindmost..and of course ifn the creek don't rise....and Giddyup mule....(my neighbor has 8 donkeys and a couple mules..some of which will soon be mine if we can work a trade. ....the ass end of a hard working mule says much..NO?


I'm afraid you are right,and I'm putting a good bit of effort in getting ready for a category five shit storm.

I am not convinced that it will hit as soon as you think-I may not be around to see it.

Since I am old enough now that I find it wise to take a break frequently when I feel the old ticker beginning to break into a gallop,I'm going with stashed diesel and betting if I run out that I can get hold of enough of something to run one of our old tractors.

Younger folks should definitely think about draft anomals.

Tractors are harder to steal than mules if you remove a couple of small parts and they don't eat if you don't use them.We can park ours w/i buckshot range of the front door when it becomes necessary.

I may build a wood gasifier this year if I can get to it.If our tractor breaks so that I can't fix it,I guess there will be plenty around with empty fuel tanks that can be had cheap- for a truckload of corn or a few hundred rounds of rifle ammo,maybe.

We have only been able to get a good internet connection for a few months.I never knew about the
Oil Drum before that.I have used the net occasionally for years but only when traveling or on campus.The local phone lines are so bad that dial up is WORSE than useless.Nobody can stay connected more than five minutes at a time.

Plus I have a lot of free time now.

You are correct that Joe's day is about over.I guess that he has anywhere from ten more days(-in the event of an unexpected hot war) to twenty years(-before the economy grinds to a halt due to total overshoot/peakeverything) to kiss lifestyle and very possibly his life goodby.Time frame is My own guess as informed by studying content of this and other sites plus reading a good book every two to seven days for fifty years.

The Oil Drum is imo by far the best all around single site dealing with energy and sustainability,but there are some supposedly good ones I haven't visited yet.

Cost reduction on algal extraction -- two new methods promise two orders of magnitude

The details on this would be very interesting. I have not seen anything dramatically new for removing algae from wastewater pond effluent for years. Dissolved air flotation still seems to be the best. Membranes still have clogging and longevity problems with algae. More research might result in improvements, but "two orders of magnitude" improvement seems very speculative and unlikely.

• Cost reduction of algal oil production -- one order of magnitude in the last two years
• Cost reduction on algal extraction -- two new methods promise two orders of magnitude
• Cost reduction on energy for mixing -- one order of magnitude in the last two years

This sounds encouraging can you give more details of the types of cost reductions?

It seems that raising marine algae for aquaculture feeds( for marine fish) would help to solve the problem of using fish by-catch for aquaculture feeds. Fish, abalone and prawns generally get much higher prices/kg than land animals and should avoid methane.

Not the above as far as I know but recently reported and it includes not only algae but also a new solar panel:

Scientists in Canada and India are proposing a surprising new solution to the global energy crisis —“milking” oil from the tiny, single-cell algae known as diatoms, renowned for their intricate, beautifully sculpted shells that resemble fine lacework. Their report appears online in the current issue of the ACS’ bi-monthly journal Industrial Engineering & Chemical Research.

Estimates suggest that live diatoms could make 10−200 times as much oil per acre of cultivated area compared to oil seeds.

“We propose ways of harvesting oil from diatoms, using biochemical engineering and also a new solar panel approach that utilizes genetically modifiable aspects of diatom biology, offering the prospect of “milking” diatoms for sustainable energy by altering them to actively secrete oil products,” the scientists say. “Secretion by and milking of diatoms may provide a way around the puzzle of how to make algae that both grow quickly and have a very high oil content.”

Well, early days but milk is not harvested from cows by grinding them up and extracting the milk is it?

It occurs to me that there could substantial complimentary solutions to a number of problems we face: Fossil Fuel Power Plants, Municipal Water Treatment, Industrial Livestock Farming Runoff... all these could be valued inputs to industrial algae cultivation.

I don't that algae is great idea or boondoggle... but I don't see any reason to look into it further.

I think the real reason it was decided by Ike to expand the Interstate highway system, trucking industry, and the airlines was to provide jobs for the returning veterans. Remember many of the men who fought-my dad included-joined to escape the depression on the farms. My dad was only 16 years old when he joined and that was a lie. But anything beat the farm of the 30's. There was a unwritten agreement after the victory that these men would have decent jobs and housing. Had these jobs not been provided there would have been Hell to pay. The airlines were expanded to provide jobs for the returning pilots.

This is the correct post.

If you want to know about algae and oil just watch this;

CRUDE - The incredible journey of oil

and consider the conditions under which the huge algae blooms occurred…

then read the stories about the global warming induced increase of algae blooms around the world;

SCUM WILL RULE THE WORLD (some would say they already do)

Thus the logic behind this exchange:

RR quote: Page 150: When writing that algal fuel mimics fossil fuels without fossilization, he writes “Skipping the fossilization step not only saves 200 million years of pressure and heat, but lowers production costs significantly.” I can’t really comprehend this one.

Consider the true cost of production for fossil fuels. Failing government subsidies, fossil fuels would cost around $15 a gallon and that’s ignoring their ecological cost. Oil fields must be found and developed at huge cost. Extraction and transportation add significant additional costs.

The tempting thing about all of the bio-fuels (methanol, ethanol, butanol, algae, methane and methane recapture, etc.) is that they are already above ground with us. The expense and energy consumption of finding, drilling, developing water seperating infrastructure, etc. that is currently used in oil production must be compared to the infrastructure needed to produce the bio-fuel competitors to the oil.

At the base level, all the expense with the bio-fuels is getting the hydrogen, or energy content out (this is also true of oil, but must include the cost of first getting the oil from deep below the ground or ocean.

Alas the effort of getting the energy out of the substence, whatever substance, always seem to be more difficult than expected.

In a post above, oldfarmermac said
"Now if I(and I am sure many or most other OD regulars) am often confused as to the actual facts regarding many serious issues and the most likely implications thereof,what chance does Joe SixPack or your high school English teacher-who most likely has only the barest fig leaf of a science course to her credit-have of sorting out the sci fi from the science?"

People are not as dumb as they are often presumed, but oldfarmer is correct that there is a lot of confusion out there. This is caused by an over abundence of potential options, many of which seem at first glance to be relatively equal in their potential. But "relatively" equal makes all the difference when your talking about billions of barrels of oil equivalent.

Which is easier to get the energy content from...ethanol, or butanol, or should you just burn the natural gas directly you otherwise may use in either of the alcohol fuels? How about algae, how does it stack up against the alcohols? What about methane, why not put every biological product you have in a methane digester? And what about methane waste much is out there?

It becomes very much the same as attempting to pick financial investments: We can say that stock X has potential...but perhaps Y would be better...or a fund combined with stock X and a hedge with LLP's? other words, what is the "perfect" solution? And under what exact situations does it continue to be "perfect"?

Of course if we throw using solar or wind to drive the process (ethanol, butanol, methane, etc., or algae or whatever)into the mix we are putting in yet one more ringer: If you used solar and wind to drive the distillation of ethanol or butanol, how would it compare to algae? And you have opened up the question as to why we don't just use the solar energy directly to charge batteries, compress air, even to produce hydrogen or as thermal energy to heat homes? The variables keep climbing and the "perfect" solution seems even further from us...

As much as we hate getting off our ass and actually building something, we are finally going to have to because it is the only way to see which one will actually deliver in the field. Right now, wind, PV solar and thermal collecting solar (concentrating mirror) at least have the advantage of being out there in the field, along with nuclear energy. We can at least see that they work and approximately how much they cost. Likewise ethanol, but you have to do a lot of discounting to account for the issues of government subsidies and the impact on food prices, consumption of topsoil, water, natural gas, etc.

If ethanol is nothing more than "attempting to create fuel by sucking sunshine through a corn cob", then algae is nothing more than "attempting to create fuel by sucking sunshine through pond scum." Is it the best way?

It becomes obvious that we seem to believe we can produce enough "energy" to drive other processes (if we spend enough money and effort) but that we still are certain we will need a high density/portable/clean form of liquid fuel. Of course with a little thought and engineering we may not need as much liquid fuel as we think we do.

Either way, let's try some of this stuff. If true catastrophic collapse is on the way anyway, what do we have to lose? We can at least have some fun on the way out.


In recent Scientific American issue, there is an article on "Grassoline".

Anyway, the authors in desperate for more government grants claimed that this new "biofuels" can contribute equivalent to 1/2 of our current oil supply.

Right now, with Uncle Sam dangling billions of dollars in front of researchers and startups (started by researchers), everyone is drooling for the piece of the action. Work or not work -- it's money in the pocket.