It still may sound strange and far-flung to many of us that one day soon we’ll be looking to algae to help us make progress and distance along the path that will carry us away from fossil fuels.
But as we have reported on multiple occasions, there’s plenty of alternative-to-petroleum promise in that pond scum.
And among those who are at the forefront of championing the use of algae to produce hydrocarbons is one who might surprise you. As reported by Triple Pundit, Cynthia “CJ” Warner spent 20 years at BP, rising to the level of Head of Global Refining, making her one of the most powerful figures in the global oil industry.
But what she saw upon surveying the energy landscape told her that petroleum is an energy dinosaur, trudging along a declining trail toward obsolescence.
Subsequent events in the Gulf of Mexico clearly show that her 2009 departure from BP was unintentionally but absolutely well-timed. Since leaving the British oil giant, Warner has become president of Sapphire Energy whose focus is the production of bio-fuels produced by algae.
According to Triple Pundit, Sapphire maintains itself to have been the first to produce 91 octane auto fuel from renewable sources when it did so in 2008.
Warner speaks of her transformation and redirected career trajectory:
“I had an epiphany that if I was going to put so much personal energy into making something happen, it was a lot better to create the key to the future than to nurse along the dying past. What I want to do is leave a legacy for my kids – I don’t want to leave them a world where we’re fighting for the last slice of the pie, but one where we’re baking new pies.”
In a presentation at the 2009 Web 2.0 Summit, Warner explained that algae offers far more efficient photosynthetic conversion as compared to any other plant, perhaps by a factor of as high as 40 times.
While policy and research efforts remain engaged in ethanol-based biofuels, Warner offers cold facts and hard numbers for our consideration. Corn-based ethanol currently represents 4 percent of the transportation fuel, and requires the cultivation of 23 million acres in order to do so.
Were we to apply the equivalent area to growing algae, she maintains that we would have half of our gasoline supply taken care of, and entirely from a renewable and carbon-neutral source.
One more benefit to these biofuels that Warner highlights for the consideration of policy makers and the general public alike is that no modifications to the current fleet or to the existing fuel infrastructure is required in order to use them. These algae-derived biofuels are perfect and a direct substitute for conventional gasoline, right now.
It will be interesting to watch for additional signs from within the oil industry over the immediate future, looking for those who, like Warner, once worked hard for the oil industry but who experience a change of heart toward petroleum.
A growing population of converted oil execs like Hanson would be sure to speed progress, but with or without them, fast-moving events in energy research strongly suggest that green algae just may give the green light to green fuels taking off in a big way.
Story by David Bois, originally published on July 16, 2010 on Tonic