Commentary: Will the Energy Future Be Built in the United States?

Source: By Matt Carr, Executive Director, Algae Biomass Organization • Posted: Monday, July 14, 2014

Carr Headshot 2013

Jobs, abundant energy and stable regulations are worthy goals for any energy legislation, but the continued partisan back-and-forth that pits fossil energy against new sources is becoming a liability that threatens more than any single industry.

It’s time to put politics aside and set a clear energy agenda for the U.S.: Congress should move swiftly to set conditions for responsible development of energy resources that are available today while accelerating the development of renewable resources we’ll need tomorrow. Doing so will deliver fuel that we all need, provide jobs for Americans, address the risks of climate change, and keep our country competitive in a world filled with ambitious economies.

Opportunistic overseas economies: Picking the US taxpayer’s pocket?

A growing number of those economies are taking advantage of our policy paralysis, investing billions in the next generation of energy technology that they will then turn around and sell to the U.S.

Today algae are being harnessed by technology developers to provide a renewable, domestic source of green crude oil, ethanol, biodiesel, plastics, chemicals and countless other products to supplement goods derived today from petroleum.

Today’s algae entrepreneurs employ thousands in states like New Mexico, Arizona, Iowa and Florida as they scale up to commercial production.

Many are also finding great success overseas.

Sapphire Energy’s partnership with Sinopec in China is the most recent example. Accelergy is also actively deploying their carbon-capture technology in China. Cellana recently announced a partnership with an Isreali company, Heliae has just partnered with a Japanese company to develop a commercial algae production facility, and Solazyme is investing millions in production capacity in Brazil. Some of these partnerships focus on more than fuels, a necessary step for the industry to grow into a reliable energy source.

The growing attractiveness of international partnerships should worry policy makers. Will entire industries be developed by other nations because we won’t make commonsense energy policy choices in the United States?

Many international strategic partners are easy to work with because they have the necessary policy support at home. They can build a favorable regulatory environment for a new industry.

Look at fracking technology, developed here in the U.S. This industry is so successful today because of the coordinated research and development efforts of several federal agencies, working closely with visionary entrepreneurs.

Accelerating the next generation of energy technologies

Here are a few simple ideas to give the next generation of energy technology a boost. They should not be controversial, especially when paired with sensible, across-the-board energy strategy:

• Renewing expired renewable energy tax incentives, including the second-generation biofuel tax credits that expired at the end of last year, through at least 2015 would give investors and technology developers a fair chance to prove themselves. Extending these incentives to renewable chemicals would expand the opportunities for biomass beyond fuels.

• Restoring the advanced biofuels volumes in the Renewable Fuel Standard and quickly approving stalled RFS pathways would send a vital signal to advanced biofuel developers that there will be a market for these fuels and drive development of the energy infrastructure of the future.

• Fully funding the Navy’s military drop-in biofuels initiative will pave the path to greater fuel security for our nation’s armed forces

• Renewable energy must also be recognized in Master Limited Partnerships. This simple change would unleash a new wave of private investments in algae and other technologies. Investors are showing an appetite for renewable energy as well as traditional sources. Let’s give them equal footing.

• Finally, algae can consume enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, and every barrel of oil we make with algae is a barrel of fossil oil we can leave sequestered underground. The EPA must recognize that using CO2 to grow the algae needed to produce these fuels is a valid approach for power plants to meet their emissions obligations.

Like a new oilfield or a pipeline not yet built, algae are among the new resources waiting to be tapped. Many other nations are working hard to tap into the potential of algae before we do. The sooner Congress balances support for today’s energy industries with tomorrow’s, the sooner all Americans will have a chance to benefit.