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Rep. Teague Strongly Endorsing Algae-based Fuels

In an opinion piece published on Politico.com, Rep. Harry Teague (D-NM), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, provides a glowing assessment of algae.

Algae, Teague argues, can meet many of the countries energy needs:

  1. Stable, affordable prices;
  2. Reduced dependence on foreign oil;
  3. Fuels that are good for the environment; and
  4. Energy jobs right here in American.
There are five resources required to turn algae into fuel, Teague explains, including: sunlight, brackish or salt water, desert or other marginal land, CO2, and algae.  He explains:
We have plenty of all five and too much of one — carbon dioxide. But through photosynthesis, we can take carbon dioxide pollution out of the atmosphere and convert it into algae-based gasoline and fuel…Whether algae are used to make diesel, jet fuel, gasoline or ethanol — or as a feedstock in plastic and other bioproduct manufacturing — the prospects are exciting.  Breakthroughs in the laboratory and in pilot-scale engineering have brought estimates for commercial-scale production costs down in range of today’s conventional fuels. With the resources so abundant, potential production volumes are staggering — in the tens of billions of gallons per year.

While algae shows promising potential and is certainly all the rage these days, it is by no means a silver bullet to the energy crisis.  The production volumes for algae are staggering: it could yield more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre of production per year as opposed to alternatives such as corn which would produce only 250 gallons per acre per year.  But while tens of billions of gallons per year may be possible, it will likely require decades of research and innovation to make the economics feasible through technological and production system breakthrough.

Working through these obstacles will require government support, argues Teague, on the scale already sized for other renewable fuels.

Some of the immediate barriers, according to Teague, in raising capital for commercial-scale production of algae-based fuel include:

  • A quirk in our tax code that provides tax incentives for cellulosic biofuel production but not for other advanced technology feedstock — meaning algae.
  • Our nation’s renewable fuel standard, which mandates that, by 2022, 16 billion gallons of our annual fuel demand must be satisfied by cellulosic fuel — but algae don’t qualify and receive no benefit from the RFS.

Algae biofuel doesn’t qualify simply because their feedstocks are different. Therefore, they don’t meet the narrow biological definition of “cellulosic.” A variety of things can be used to grow algae — but not cellulose.

Teague adds that he and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) have introduced bills to ensure that algae-based fuels are on a level playing field with cellulosic fuels in the tax code. There are also efforts to replace the renewable fuel standard’s exclusive carve-out for cellulosic biofuel with one for any advanced green biofuel — and that would include both cellulosic and algae-based fuels.
More on Senator Teague and his opinion on algae’s potential.

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