Oil from algae (oilgae?) isn’t going anywhere, as I’ve been writing and as the NYTimes highlights in a recent article beginning with the bankruptcy of one “standard-bearer for the algae revolution,” which lost $70 million because, as the Times put it

the claims of algae biofuel companies get ahead of the science

Ditto the engineering side.  People with grand ideas really must be required to first do the whole nine yards on the laboratory scale, and then move to a small prototype, before going to full-scale. Get competent, independent reviews of results at each stage. Sadly, this logical development approach is generally ignored.

Giving big bucks to someone who hasn’t figured things 0ut fully on the laboratory scale is pure folly for something like this. Fund the university people, fine–that at least helps train some students. But please don’t be throwing my tax money away on full-scale installations using unproven approaches.

There are a number of other fundamental factors being missed here, besides requiring logical development steps. In addition to many problems noted in the Times article, algae (and the new darling, cyanobacteria) are mostly water, and the useful types of compounds (i.e., “oils” or fats) these bugs can produce are miscible with water within and without the cells that produce them. Separating useful compounds from that water requires no small effort, and will also result in wastes that must be dealt with. We’re talking about of a life-cycle analysis here, along with important thermodynamic considerations.

OK, enough said. So long as money is available for this sort of thing, there will be people with proposals at the ready for taking it. Just recognize that most research proposals and business plans for such approaches suffer from, for want of a better term, “puffery.” Puffery, as I understand it, is a legal term for such things as advertisements. There’s puffery and then there’s exaggeration on the way to outright lying. Those who don’t fully understand what they are talking about are not lying, are they? They’re just exaggerating.


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