Skip to comments.John Doerr, Kleiner Perkins Say Algae Won't Save World
Posted on 03/08/2009 3:16:23 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Speaking at the ECO:nonomics conference yesterday, John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, and Bryant Tongall said they're not interested in backing any companies working on algae biofuels.
On the face of it, that makes sense. It's pond scum. However, algae was already used twice this year to fuel test flights of commercial planes. It was mixed with jatropha seed oil. But those test flights aren't enough to get major venture capitalists interested, even though Khosla said he looked at more than 100 algae biofuel companies.
Environmental Capital: For Mr. Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, the problem is algae itself. To get better economics, you need to grow the stuff in cheap, open-air ponds, not in fancy bioreactors. But that is rough on algae and limits yields. Mr. Tong, of Nth power, says both the economics and the timeline of algae biofuels are still ugly at this point.
Mr. Khosla adores liquid alternative fuels, like ethanol. He told a big biofuels summit last October that he believe[s] in the potential of algae. But he hasnt invested in algae so far because it fails his cardinal rule: economics. Algae has to be cost-competitive without subsidies and with oil between $45 and $50 a barrel, he said tonight.
Algae garned its fair share of venture money last year according this Portfolio article, but like many alternative fuels, it needs to be able to prove it can be done at scale. According to a 2004 University of New Hampshire study we'd need a pond the size of South Carolina to create enough algae to satisfy our current fuel demands. And doing that would involve all sorts of new infrastructure headaches.
Algea, sugar cane, corn or whatever won't matter a hill of beans if the economy continues to plummet. Although oil prices have leveled off a bit the last month, even gaining a little, if the big D hits, we could easily see oil prices back to the mid twenty's or even a less; not giving much incentive to invest in alternative's to oil.
Doerr is no more correct in his assertions here than he was when the Segway was going to change how cities are designed. Algae has tremendous potential as a biofuel feedstock due to it’s extremely high oil content and non-competition with food. He’s correct in that the challenge is in the production process, however R&D has only begun into optimizing the process of producing algae on a large economical commercial scale.
His comments are as asinine as those of Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM when he said in 1943 there was a world market for “maybe five computers”.
I was thinking that algae was being discredited due to the fact that technically it holds the most promise in the biofuel field (a bit of “political logic” that always seems to override reality - just as AGW is “political logic”. Where’s the vested interest?)
Just look at the potential yield versus soybean based biodiesel, algae is ahead with 50x per acre. What I would like to know about the algae process is if it can be fed a waste stream.
“What I would like to know about the algae process is if it can be fed a waste stream.”
Don’t see why not, the nutrients from certain *ahem* “waste streams” are blamed for algae problems in the lakes.
John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, and Bryant Tongall said they're not interested in backing any companies working on algae biofuels.
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Algae right now holds more promise than any biofuel I can see. Moreso than ethanol, not because of the food v. fuel problem, but because of it’s chemical properties present logistical problems that require the subsidy to blenders. There needs to be plenty of tweaks to algae but I think many of the technological and cost issues can be overcome.
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