Is there something fishy about algae? Is it the revolutionary new fuel source opportunity the Obama administration represents it to be?
Last February, in a University of Miami campaign speech intended to pacify prospective pump price-panicked patrons, the president said: “We’re making new investments in the development of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance, algae…You’ve got a lot of algae out there, right? If we can figure out how to make energy out of that, we’ll be doing all right. Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17% of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel we can grow right here in America.
Like all other “revolutionary” green energy schemes, there’s little that is really new in this idea. The first electric car in the U.S. was built by Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith in 1835; the first electricity-generating wind turbine was invented by Scottish academic James Blythe in 1887; Bell Labs created the photovoltaic solar cell in 1954; and the dream of producing fuels from algae dates back to the Carter administration in the late 1970s.
Remember how ethanol was going to save us from dependence on foreign oil imports? After four decades, huge mandates to force it on gasoline consumers, tens of billions of dollars in subsidies, and huge impacts upon food prices, it only represented about five percent of automotive fuel (by volume) in 2008. Biodiesel accounted for less than one percent of the diesel market that year.