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A Look Back…a Look Forward
December 28, 2011
Ed. Note: We welcome the Algal Biomass Organization’s Executive Director Mary Rosenthal as a new A.I.M. contributing editor!
s we head into a new year it’s always interesting—and enlightening—to reflect on the events of the past year and what they mean for the algae industry. Let’s take a look back.
Many of you will remember that 2011 began with a discouraging report that claimed algae biofuels could never play a role in US energy security. We at the Algal Biomass Organization (ABO) easily refuted the research, but if we knew then what the next 12 months would prove about algae, we could have asked skeptics to just sit back and watch as new technologies emerged, markets opened, production increased, and support reached new heights.
The progress we saw for new markets is the kind that opens doors, like the decision this past summer of ASTM International—the world standards body—to finalize a specification for jet fuel. It was followed by the history-making first U.S. commercial flight to be powered by algae-based biofuel—United 1403—which flew on November 7 from Houston to Chicago.
The ease of using and distributing biofuels in existing aviation fuel infrastructure, coupled with the high fuel costs facing airlines makes many in that industry expect a rapid and wide-ranging adoption of biofuels. I expect that many such “firsts” of 2011 will rapidly become the norm in 2012.
The military’s need for a strategic alternative to fossil fuels is opening doors as well. The Navy’s commitment to a “Great Green Fleet,” led to the purchase of more than 100,000 gallons of algae-based biofuel in 2011, as well as several tests of algae-derived fuels on different aircraft and boats. In the summer of 2012 we will see this fleet in action for the first time, and the Navy will once again usher in a new era of transportation.
Speaking of a new era, the number of facilities that broke ground or began operations in 2011 was hard to keep up with. We saw BioProcess Algae’s photobioreactors begin production in the plains of Iowa, and the groundbreaking at Sapphire’s enormous open pond facility in Columbus, New Mexico. Algenol Biofuels announced biorefinery construction in late December. Also put Solazyme, Aurora Algae, Honeywell’s UOP, Cellana, Phycal, Heliae, OpenAlgae, OriginOil, and General Atomics on the list of companies with impressive 2011 operations, expansions and achievements.
It makes sense for an industry moving forward in markets and production capabilities to see an increase in support from people outside the industry as well. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Renewable Fuel Parity Act of 2011, which would give our industry a chance to compete with almost any biofuel feedstock on a level playing field. This support was echoed by Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) at the Algae Biomass Summit in Minneapolis. As for federal agencies, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and the Navy proposed a $510 million investment in drop-in biofuels.
But making parity, or the $510 million, a reality will be a challenge. An unpredictable Congress means we will have to be vigilant and aggressive. That is why I’m especially pleased by one of the late developments here at ABO for 2011. On December 19, we announced that the respected global law firm K&L Gates LLP will be helping ABO educate federal policy makers about the growing potential for algae biofuels and their role in U.S. energy production, national security and economic development.
In 2012 we will be working to make sure that these great strengths of our industry are well-known by those looking for ways to stimulate job growth, ensure the competitiveness of the U.S. economy and drive the development of a scalable, sustainable domestic fuel industry. We will be helping our members do the same. With more algae-derived products and fuels becoming available you can expect to hear a louder voice from an industry poised to shape many different markets.
One event that proved this fact for me was this past October in Minneapolis, when we hosted the largest Algae Summit ever, with attendees, speakers and exhibitors from 29 countries, 45 states and six Canadian provinces. More than 800 people engaged in sharing knowledge and conducting business transactions, 100 presentations were made and more than 120 posters were presented making it the most successful algae summit ever. Next year we will be in Denver, and I expect a big gathering there as well.
As 2011 draws to a close it is very clear we are laying a foundation for strong markets and production in our industry, and we are eager to keep moving forward in 2012 and beyond. Have a wonderful New Year!
Mary Rosenthal, Executive Director
Algal Biomass Organization