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Algae for bioenergy

About the time former presidential hopeful Al Gore was picking up his Nobel Peace Prize for scaring the bejeebers out of people about global warming, he was being criticized in Tennessee for the huge amounts of energy being consumed by his mansion in the exclusive Belle Meade subdivision of Nashville.

Seems his 10,000 square-foot home was about as energy efficient as an air-conditioned out house.

So Gore added a few solar panels on the roof, geothermal heating, caulked the windows and replaced light bulbs with energy-efficient ones. The U.S. Green Building Council subsequently sacrificed its reputation as a non-political organization by giving his new home its second highest rating for sustainable design.

Unfortunately, making the 80-year-old house more energy efficient had about as much impact on the environment as dimming the dash lights on a Hummer. Published estimates of the energy costs required to keep the Gores’ home comfy after the renovation ranged from 11 percent lower to 10 percent higher.

According to the conservative-leaning Tennessee Center for Policy Research, the Gores’ annual utility bill in 2007, after the renovation, was $16,533. When asked the costs of the renovation, a Gore spokesperson declined to divulge figures, but conceded that typical folk like you and me couldn’t afford it anyway.

There should be a green slime award given to those who reach high levels of environmental hypocrisy, but I sure wouldn’t want to give a bad name to anyone doing admirable work with the stuff. Like the so-called “algaepreneurs,” who are investing in algae’s potential as a feedstock for biofuel.

Yes, in the beginning, there was algae. And from this algae came oil, and from oil, gasoline, and from gasoline, the ability to get where we need to go really fast. Now we could be making full circle back to algae as an energy source.

According to an article in the San Francisco Business Times, Solazyme Inc., in San Francisco has announced an agreement with the Chevron subsidiary Chevron Technology Ventures to develop and test biodiesel feedstock made from algae. Chevron has already struck a deal with the Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop jet fuel and other transportation fuels from algae.

According to the article, Solazyme will also generate algal oil for Imperium Rewnewable’s biodiesel production process. Solazyme recently unveiled what it called the first algae-derived biodiesel fuel, dubbed Soladiesel, which has already successfully powered a factory-standard automobile for long distances under typical driving conditions.

And now interest in algae is starting to spread across the Mid-South.

The National Algae Association’s Mid-South Chapter is presenting a one-day algae commercialization workshop at the Doubletree Castle Hotel in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2009. The event will include an overview on current algae production across the Mid-South. If there is an ‘algaepreneur’ hiding somewhere in you, contact Tamra Fakhoorian for more information at


TAGS: Management
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