November 1, 2015 — by Robert Henrikson
Yes, push that red reset button to get the algae industry back on track, by nominating players who are making a real and positive contribution in the world of algae.
Over this past decade, the Algae Industry has been dominated by big money chasing the mirage of commercial algae biofuels. My March 2011 post “Shakeout in Algae Biofuels” described shakeout scenarios about to unfold.
This great biofuel boom and bust raked in billions of dollars in government, corporate and private investment over the past decade, attracting charlatans and collaborators (some who knew better) who sucked up the public bandwidth about algae, burned investors, and discouraged many from funding algae ventures for food, feed and high-value products.
Failed biofuel companies may try to excuse themselves because the price of oil fell. A decade ago, experts with real algae experience could not identify a pathway to make algae biofuel cost competitive with conventional fuel even at higher fuel prices. Where is the path forward today?
Just a few years ago corporate suits were dismissing non-fuel products from algae as “co-products” for “niche” markets. Now they are gone. Their replacements at algae biofuel ventures have desperately tried to pivot to those niche markets and algae co-products like food, feed, nutraceuticals, high value oils and fine chemicals, to show a real income stream for their sponsors.
During this time, we have also learned about the barriers to the massive scale required for biofuel commercialization. This undermines the claim that bigger is better, and renews appreciation of small is beautiful.
Algae industry conferences use to open with a plenary panel of algae CEO “all-stars,” touting their big successes developing biofuels. One-by-one they have dropped away. The largest algae industry organization in the USA engaged in ongoing efforts lobbying for government grants, subsidies and entitlements to maintain the faltering algae biofuel R&D industry.
If 10% of the funding for algae biofuels had been directed into R&D for animal nutrition studies and cost reduction for algae aquaculture and animal feeds and human food, we would already be well along on this path. Growing algae for feed and food will have a far greater impact on reducing negative effects of climate change than biofuels ever would, and in doing so, we will support all sentient beings on this Earth.
Let’s reset our algae narrative. There is plenty of good news to share. Opportunities abound. Refocus on the real algae industry that offers real products and services from algae. Let’s nominate individuals and organizations that understand how to change the world. “Eat Algae, Don’t Burn It.”