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Green behind the green crude 1

An article in Sandiego times.
I would have expected the article to be indepth given that it is coming from where algae to oil industry is.
It could have been lot more profound and it could have given us all much later news than what it is providing.
Most of it old hat as Richard Spyros says :-)
It is an easy read on a sunday morning./


Investors are a tough crowd to cultivate. Yet in the pond that is the biotechnology market, one product seems to be rising to the top like the green sludge it is: algae. Its potential use as biofuel is drawing venture money from places you might not expect. The reason: It could be both environmentally responsible and profitable.

The so-called "green crude" has piqued the interest of media from coast to coast, government agencies trying to decide how to regulate the stuff, local governments hoping it will perk up the economy, and investors with deep, deep pockets.

Think Bill Gates. Think the Rockefellers.

Think big oil.

The promise of a next-generation biofuel is so enticing that even the world's biggest oil companies are investing in the very product that could make our reliance on fossil fuels go the way of the dinosaur. And it's a gamble that's bringing jobs and millions of dollars to San Diego, along with optimism that there's more to come.

The largest oil refiner in the world, Exxon Mobil, is banking on the work of Synthetic Genomics, a La Jolla company founded and led by famed biologist J. Craig Venter, best known for his role in sequencing the human genome. Exxon Mobil has pledged $600 million toward algae research over the next 10 years, with $300 million earmarked for Synthetic Genomics. The companies cut the ribbon on a new greenhouse research facility at the La Jolla campus last month.

"From the Exxon Mobil perspective, we're optimistic," Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman White says of the algae biofuel partnership. "Everything is on track and even though it is still early days in the project, we are very pleased with the progress."

Stephen Mayfield, director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology research consortium and a co-founder of Sapphire Energy, says oil companies are playing against the clock. While it could take a decade or more to determine whether algae will be a commercially viable fuel alternative, it's widely estimated that fossil fuel reserves will dry up within the next 50 years if our current consumption continues and no new reserves are discovered.

"Oil companies take a look at this and know that they don't have to solve this problem in the next year, or the next 10 years," Mayfield says. "Even though it is competition, they'd be paranoid to worry about us. They have so much money that if algae as fuel turns out to be true and viable, they'll buy and own it."

The rush of funding is especially relevant here, where leaders are hoping to establish San Diego as a green-energy hub.

Sapphire Energy likewise takes some of its research funding from major oil companies, and has former BP executives in both management and board member roles. Its investors includes Cascade Investment, an investment holding company owned by Bill Gates, and Venrock, the venture capital arm of the Rockefeller family.

Meanwhile, BP is simultaneously investing locally in a different type of biofuel -- a plant derivative called cellulosic ethanol -- from San Diego's Verenium Corp. Last month BP announced it would pay $98.3 million for Verenium's cellulosic biofuels business while keeping a partnership with the local company.

And San Diego-based Kent BioEnergy receives funding from a variety of undisclosed sources, including big oil, said David Pyrce, executive vice president of business development.

While hunting for commercially viable algae biofuels, Kent BioEnergy generates revenue by putting its algae to work cleaning up water pollution and producing additives for livestock feed. While algae biofuels are newly gaining the attention of investors, research funding can still be tough to come by in today's economic environment, he says.

"There's a lot less money to go around. The pie has shrunk," Pyrce says.
Wed August 25 2010 12:53:41 AM by Natalia sandiego times 1715 views
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