Venter: Biofuels ‘Dead’ without U.S. Aid
by Bradley J. Fikes (North County Times) Famed genomics researcher J. Craig Venter, who is working to develop biofuels from photosynthetic algae, acknowledged this week that alternate fuels are “dead” unless the federal government mandates their use with a carbon policy.
Venter’s strongly worded statement came Tuesday night at the annual Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa, after he was asked when synthetic biology might have a meaningful impact on the country’s energy production.
Without strong government intervention, Venter said, that day will never come. He works on biofuels, human health and other issues at Synthetic Genomics, the La Jolla company he co-founded. It partnered with ExxonMobil in 2009 to develop algae biofuels.
“It doesn’t matter what the scientific breakthroughs are, there’s no way to ever beat oil,” Venter said. “In fact, oil’s not even an issue right now because of all the new natural gas discoveries.
“So there’s no way economically for a new fuel made out of renewables to ever be able to compete with something an oil company can do, without sharp federal regulations and a sharp carbon policy that says, you can’t keep just taking carbon out of the ground, burning it and putting it in the atmosphere. Until we do that, there is no biofuel industry.”
…Companies like SG Biofuels could potentially make a profit by selling a small amount of biofuel at a discount to oil. But if they sold a renewable oil substitute in large enough quantities, the price of oil would “plummet,” said Borenstein, co-director of the University of California Energy Institute at UC Berkeley. That would eliminate any cost advantage the biofuel might have.
“If we cut (oil) demand by 20 or 40 percent, the price would probably be down in the $20-a-barrel range, which means gasoline would be well under $2 a gallon,” Borenstein said. “For the biofuels to remain competitive, they would have to have very low costs.” READ MORE WATCH VIDEO