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Algae biofuels industry bolstered by new partnership

18 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You could be using algae to fuel your car within a decade.

You could be working at an algae facility, helping to harvest one of the fastest-growing energy forms on the planet.

You could be running a business that services the expanding algae biofuels industry, including real estate, law and food services.

Or you could be one of the San Diegans who will enjoy the ripple-effect wealth of this sector, which currently generates more than $63 million worth of economic activity in the region.

This is according to leaders who are promoting algae biofuels as a serious industry in San Diego.

“We hope to make sustainable algae-based fuel production, a reality in the next five to 10 years,” said Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of University of California San Diego. Fox spoke at a press event held Tuesday on the university campus, to launch a regional partnership for the algae biofuels industry.

The San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, spearheaded by UCSD scientists, comprises a broad consortium of political, business, investment, economic and industry leaders.

“Algae biofuels will allow us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels from foreign economies and will provide new opportunities for a new economy and a new workforce,” said Fox.

It’s a major step forward towards becoming a major center for clean tech,” said San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders at the event.

The algae biofuels industry is already a strong contributor to the region’s economy, according to statistics provided by Monica Clark, an economist at San Diego Regional Association of Governments (SANDAG).

Directly and indirectly, the industry now annually:

– Employs 513 employees
– Generates $25 million in wages
– Creates $63 million in economic activity

In addition, every $10 million in venture capital investment in the industry results in:

– 21 jobs
– $1.18 million in wages
– $2.9 million in economic activity

New jobs are especially welcomed in Imperial Valley, which serves as an ideal location for sun-absorbing algae farms, said Timothy Kelley, president of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Board. The inland area has unemployment rates as high as 25 percent.

Algae biofuels are currently available as crude oil, at $20 to $30 per-barrel, said Stephen Mayfield, an associate dean at the Scripps Research Institute. But the biofuels will be ready for mass consumption within three to five years and reach $2 per barrel within a decade.

Venture capitalists and institutions had already invested “hundreds of millions” in San Diego’s algae industry, said Michael Melnick, of CMEA Ventures. But it would take partnerships with federal agencies to bring it to a viable level.

The industry would require “billions of dollars of public commitment” to succeed, said B. Greg Mitchell, a biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

But San Diego is a leading contender for $800 million in federal stimulus funds earmarked for biofuels research by the Obama administration, said Mayfield. San Diego exceeds other research areas, such as Arizona and Seattle, as an algae industry hub. This is because of its high concentration of scientists, infrastructure and ample desert land, perfect for algae farms, he said.

President Obama has committed to “no less than three percent” of gross domestic product to research and development in the field of science, noted Steve Kay, dean of biological sciences at UC San Diego.

“What SD-CAB is doing is positioning San Diego to take advantage of that investment,” Kay said. “San Diego will reposition itself… to be one the leaders in the new economy.”

New $10 million “Algae Fuel Prize”

Prize Capital, LLC is giving away $10 million as an Algae Fuel Prize, to companies for “spurring the development of radically advanced fuels from algae.

Lee Stein, founder and chairman of Prize Capital, announced the award ahead of the press conference for San Diego’s Center for Algae Biotechnology.

The award is aimed at helping start-up companies, by reducing risk to other investors who prefer to invest at later stages.

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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