A host of startup companies are pursuing new technologies that they claim will soon lead to large-scale commercialization of biofuels made from algae. But questions remain about the viability and environmental benefits of what its developers are calling “green crude.”
Two weeks ago, a Gulfstream G-450 loaded with journalists and executives from Honeywell’s energy division, UOP, departed from Morristown, N.J. and touched down at Le Bourget Airport after an “utterly unremarkable” flight.
The purpose of the flight, which retraced Charles
J. Craig Venter, the genome pioneer, has created a “synthetic cell” by synthesizing a complete bacterial genome and using it to take over a cell. Venter’s breakthrough, reported in the online edition of Science, represents a preliminary step toward the goal of creating microbes from scratch in the lab and using them to make biofuels, vaccines, and other products.
Venter’s achievement could one day lead to a technology where, though engineering the genome, individual cells could be turned into their own miniature refineries for harvesting carbon dioxide and generating hydrocarbons.
In 2005, Venter — one of the first people to sequence the human genome, doing it faster and cheaper than government scientists — set up a company, Synthetic Genomics, to create synthetic cells, and the advance reported in Science represents a milestone for the company and for so-called synthetic biology.
By Jonathan Williams
During this past summer, the world has seen multiple advances in the alternative energy field, particularly with algae biofuels. A week hasn’t gone by where I didn’t receive several press releases in my inbox highlighting the latest advances by one of the many algae companies out there.
However, while press releases look and sound good, nothing highlights the advances of a company, if not the entire field, than the announcement of a multi-million dollar partnership with a larger, well-known, and respected entity.
During this summer we saw just that, with multiple algae companies announcing their partnerships with larger corporations or entities.
To give you a brief overview on these partnerships, first came Algenol with their partnership with Dow Chemical researching algae as an ethanol fuel source. Next came Seambiotic with their announcement that they will be partnering with NASA to develop a jet fuel from algae. Most recently, and probably most importantly, was Exxon Mobil’s $600 million partnership with Synthetic Genomics to conduct extensive research on algae biofuels.