The algae industry is but one example of the crying need for independent evaluation of claims before we expend even more tax dollars on them. I’ll get to an important precedent for this approach in a moment.
The algae industry is on a tear, crying crocodile tears about tax incentives. Thus we see them as having received big bucks already (as but one example: a $50 million grant plus about $50 million in loan guarantees for a facility, as described here), yet they are lobbying hard now for more in the form of preferred tax treatment (discussed here).
This is not an industry that should need huge amounts of government money, if it really has something viable. They could readily develop testing protocols for their approaches, and then prove them out in a logical sequence (lab, pilot, prototype, full-scale). If results were good, people would be lining up to invest. Instead, this industry is attempting to grow and survive unnecessarily on government largess. That they justify government support as creating jobs only takes things so far. The money could produce jobs in other areas, such as public transportation.
There’s an important precedent for doing independent evaluations of such technologies. The Superfund Innovative Technology Evaluation (SITE) program was established to evaluate hazardous waste treatment approaches. As noted on the SITE website:
The SITE program’s central objective has been to provide decision makers … with credible performance data on innovative and enhanced commercially-ready environmental technologies. The SITE program has documented it progress and accomplishments annually in reports to Congress and other mechanisms.
What the SITE website may not explicitly state is that the program was created, in part, because people were coming out of the woodwork with claims for their approaches, going for big government Superfund bucks. It became apparent that it was absolutely necessary to independently evaluate those claims.
Another aspect of the SITE program merits mention: by its very existence, it screened out a lot of snake oil. A vendor would have to be pretty certain they had something real before they would enter into a SITE evaluation. So, those without that kind of certainty were likely to just stay home.
The SITE program is over, but its legacy remains. The need for applying the SITE approach to current claims for many energy technologies is clear. Congress should get off the dime, and allocate a certain fraction of research funds to developing independent means for evaluating them, before they get further than the constraints of fundamental science and engineering will allow.