Myth Busting – Republicans and Algae

July 19, 2012 |

By Mary Rosenthal, Executive Director, Algal Biomass Organization
Biofuels Digest columnist

I’m sure many of you remember that algae became a bit of a political football during the Republican primary campaign. It certainly was hard for me and others in the industry to see algae technology belittled. And based on that experience one might be inclined to draw a bright-line and say Democrats are for algae while Republicans are against. (Of course, to do that, one would have to ignore the incredible advocacy of U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), who co-chairs the House Algae Congress, and other Republicans who have been tireless supporters.)

But certainly, if all you did was read the partisan media on both sides you might be inclined to agree.

Make no mistake, I and the membership of the ABO, are watching the situation very carefully and are working hard to ensure that all elected officials understand the potential of biofuels, including those made from algae, are seen as vital to our economic growth, energy balance and national security.

When you get past the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign and the demands of a 24-7 news cycle, support for algae is stronger than you might think. Very quietly, we are seeing support for algae bubbling up at the state level, with recent pro-algae legislation having been passed in Ohio and Arizona.

In Arizona, bipartisan legislation was signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer that would allow algaculture to be defined as agriculture on state trust lands. A second piece of Arizona legislation will tax land used for algaculture in the same favorable manner as agricultural land. In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich signed into law bipartisan legislation that defines the production of algae as agriculture in the Ohio Revised Code.

What’s remarkable is that these states are led by Republican governors with certified conservative credentials. They are also all swing states in the 2012 elections.

This tells me is that algae companies in these states have been able to make the case for supporting algae technology. And right now, given the economic challenges we face, any company or industry that can show promise and progress towards creating jobs and economic development across a state is likely to be looked upon favorably by policymakers. When making the case about algae to policy audiences, here are seven points I have found persuasive on both sides of the aisle:

Algae are the source of all our oil today. Oil deposits are the remains of vast algae plumes that decayed and turned to oil after millions of years of heat and pressure. Today’s industry can do in a few weeks what it took nature to do in millennia.

Algae produce drop-in transportation fuels that can reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Algae fuels are fully compatible with existing oil-based infrastructure, including refineries, pipelines, and vehicle gas tanks.

Algae can be scaled. Algae can be grown throughout the USA as they do not need arable land or fresh water. They do not displace or compete with land-based crops or resources needed to grow them.

Algae produce a high-energy density fuel the military needs. The Navy supports algae because oils from algae can provide a secure, domestic source of renewable fuel for its green fleet. The Air Force likes algae because high-performance JP-8 jet fuel can be produced from algae.

Algae-based fuel is being produced now in significant quantities by numerous algae-based fuel companies. Algae’s viability as a crude oil replacement is no longer a contested issue.

Major corporate players support algae. Companies like Boeing, United Airlines, FedEx, Exxon, Honeywell and many others are actively investing in or allocating resources to algae fuel development.

Algae technology is a critical complement to coal and other CO2 emitting facilities. As major emitters of CO2 face new emissions reduction requirements, algae technology is becoming increasingly important. Because algae can digest CO2, they prove a much lower-cost solution to carbon capture than unproven storage solutions being proposed today.

The wonderful thing about algae’s benefits listed above is that they are non-partisan, evidenced by state-level support from both Democrats and Republicans. When we present our arguments in a non-partisan way, I believe reasonable policymakers will see the value in accelerating the development of our industry. The successful efforts in states like Arizona and Ohio can, and should, serve as a wakeup call to the rest of the algae industry as well as a playbook for others to follow in their own states.

The more we can develop bi-partisan support for algae at the state level, the more we’ll be able to lay the groundwork for even more success at the federal level.

The Algal Biomass Organization’s website is here.

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