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Find The Boots

Rantings from a few corporate types about life, technology, travel, guns, politics, and everything good in the world.

BioDiesel From Algae

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There is a fascinating PopSci article about a startup trying to productize algae into vegetable oil into BioDiesel. Go read it - I'll wait.

Ok, some things strike me here:
  1. The basic process was figured out 20+ years ago by some Carter (argh!) administration boondoggle that limped along until Clinton (double argh!) killed it.
  2. The process works. Sure, it takes a ton of algae to produce an ounce of fuel, but it works.
  3. We need 140B gallons of BioDiesel per year to give the Saudi's and their ilk the finger. That would take 3B acres of soybeans, 1B acres of canola (whatever that is), and 95M acres of algae. There are 435B acres of cropland in the US.
Ok, let me start off by saying: fricking duh. Were I president I would ask Congress to send me a bill subsidizing BioDiesel by two bucks a gallon. So if it cost $4.50 to deliver a gallon to the pump the consumer would pay $2.50.

Also, as I am not stupid, it occurs to me that you don't need acreage to produce algae, just sunlight, water, and space. Seems to me that we got a lot of that in the big flat middle part of the US where we ain't growing crops. Heck, you could probably grow the equivalent of 20M acres of algae in shuttered military bases and supply depots.

Finally, the thing that really struck me about these entrepreneurs is that they're trying to solve the wrong problems. They're all tied up in this bullcrap CO2 / global warming thing and trying to make that part of their production line.

If I could give any one piece of advice to startup it would be to not over-optimize.

These guys are trying to find the perfect algae, the perfect cycle, the way to get C02 from a 'global warming producer' (oh my), the way to avoid using hazardous chemicals.

Dudes, if you'll listen to a guy what been around the block once or twice.....

Find an algae that you can grow. Use whatever chemicals you have to in order to extract the veggie oil. Convert that into BioDiesel using the blood of two headed virgins. Or whatever. Make a tankful for a Ford F150. Drive that to Washington. You win.

Ok, so it cost $2,500/gallon or whatever and produced a ton of hazardous waste. Production problem and only a problem if you win.

You want to use C02 from a smokestack rather than making it yourself? Again, only a possibility if you win.

You want someone on your board who knows production. Get one of the Bush heirs - plenty of money and they have access to some of the finest vertically integrated production engineers in the world. Get a guy from CocaCola.

Taking BioDiesel down from $2,500 to $2.50 is a minor detail and it can be worked out.

In fact, truth to tell, I'm kinda tempted......

Oh, and if I could buy US BioDiesel for $4.50/gallon and regular Saudi terror oil was $2.50, well I'd fricking buy it, so put that stuff in the pump!


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