Charles Krauthammer mocked President Obama mercilessly last spring when Obama mentioned the potential for algae-based fuels in our future. I share the instinct for Obama mockery on general principle, but think the great Dr. K might have gone just a bit too far on this one, for one simple reason: unlike ethanol, wind, and many other energy boondoggles, there is a lot of private capital going into algae energy research, and while some research efforts clamor for government grants, etc, most of this is being done without government subsidy for the simplest of reasons: if someone can make algae fuels competitive with oil, they’ll make the next great energy fortune. It has to be a bummer for the greenies that one of the leading investors in the technology is ExxonMobil. I have great fun taunting the greens that if we ever do get practical algae energy, it will most likely come from ExxonMobil, and refined further by Koch Industries. Heh. (And if I have the time, I go on to explain how capitalists saved the whales. Double-Heh.)
But keep in mind also Hayward’s First Law of Environmental Energy Politics: there is no source of energy, no matter how clean, that environmentalists won’t oppose if it becomes cheap and abundant. We’ve seen this turnabout on natural gas, but also see widespread environmentalist opposition to wind farms and solar power facilities. It will happen to algae if it becomes practical.
The Yale Environment360 program has a good article out today on the subject that I recommend, but it also has this tell-tale paragraph that I guarantee will become a deafening din from the greenies if algae energy takes off:
Perhaps more worrisome, government scientists say the environmental benefits of algae remain unproven. Writing in American Scientist, Philip T. Pienkos, Lieve Laurens and Andy Aden, all of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, say that the few life-cycle assesements of algae done so far have shown “unpromising energy returns and weak greenhouse gas benefits.”
There it is folks; you heard it here first. (The first line of defense for the greens, I predict, will be to oppose any genetic engineering that may be necessary to make algae work. Forget genetically modified foods (GMOs); we can’t possibly allow GMFs (genetically modified fuels)!