Expert: Algae Must Be Commercial Scale or Just Playing

John Davis

A man who is considered to be the father of genomics says that if algae-based fuel makers can’t start making billions of gallons of fuel, they are just playing with investors’ money.

This post on says Craig Venter, the founder of synthetic biology startup Synthetic Genomics, made the remarks at the Wall Street Journal’s Economics conference this week:

In other words the algae companies need to be able to reach the scale at which the oil companies currently operate to be competitive. “That’s the real bugaboo for everybody,” said Venter. To address that hurdle, last July Synthetic Genomics announced that it was partnering with ExxonMobil on a $600 million algae biofuels program.

Synthetic Genomics is different than many of the algae fuel companies out there — Venter estimated there are 200 or so — because Synthetic Genomics is looking to use its synthetic genetic processes to tweak algae and other microorganisms to create synthetic super bugs that can crank out as much fuel as possible. Such genetically-altered bugs could consume CO2 and create synthetic hydro-carbons that could be a fuel replacement.

Venter said the synthetic genomic process could one day fundamentally change not just fuel and transportation, but food supply, medicine, and clean water. Venter and his crew at the J. Craig Venter Institute have already created a completely synthetic bacterial genome, which they claimed back in 2008 was the largest man-made DNA structure ever. Now Venter and the researchers are “extremely close” to activating the synthetic bacteria chromosome in a new cell which would make “the first synthetic species,” and will be their “proof of concept,” as Venter put it at the conference. That’s some crazy stuff.

The article goes on to say that some biofuel companies, such as Synthetic Genomics, are forming partnerships with some big oil companies to address the issue. In addition, Algae biofuel maker Sapphire Energy says it will be able to produce 1 million gallons of algae-based biodiesel and jet fuel per year by next year and a billion gallons per year by 2025.

algae, Biodiesel