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Stimulus could exclude algae research

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Both the House and Senate bills allot billions of dollars in research funds for carbon capture and storage — a very expensive and still unproven method of capturing carbon emissions and storing them underground.

A pilot project at the Schwarze Pumpe coal power plant in Germany can capture and store its own carbon dioxide emissions

But as Congress inches closer to final passage of the bill, a small group of startup algae companies, which had been almost entirely off the Washington grid until late last year, are making a last-minute sprint to get lawmakers to broaden the funds to an up-and-coming form of carbon capture. The technology uses algae to turn the carbon emissions into biofuels, rather than storing them in underground geologic formations.

Advocates say the algae-based technology, which could find funding under broad wording in the Senate bill, could be ready to go commercial in three to four years with proper funding and would cost significantly less than underground storage, giving the United States a near-ready option to move away from foreign fossil fuels.

According to Credit Suisse, traditional geologic carbon capture research, covered in the House bill, needs at least $15 billion worth of investment and 10 more years of research before it will be ready to go commercial.

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) are also now aware of the problem, lobbyists say.

“This is truly the story of the little engine that could. These are small companies that have never dealt with Washington. They have no PACs and few connections. They’re just entrepreneurs,” Moeller said. “I don’t think it was congressional intent to leave this technology out, but this is something members will eventually become outraged about.”

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