The Promise of Bioenergy Development

Date March 5, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Publication Green Fire Times

Categories Business Community Culture Education Lectures & Workshops Green Living Local News & Sports

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"Microalgae biodiversity" Photo by: Vermel Erwan

"We're all scared," said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. “But we must tell the truth about what’s happening and challenge people to do something to prevent it,” Ehrlich recently told Inter Press News Service.

As global populations increase and the Earth’s resources diminish, we are facing increasing pressures to find sustainable ways to meet our energy needs. Drilling deeper, converting tar sands or fracking deep underground deposits for fuels are band-aid solutions that often irrevocably damage ecosystems. Using sunlight to grow biomass for energy and food production is a viable alternative if we are careful not to exhaust other vital resources such as potable water or valuable nutrients during production.

While there is no one silver bullet solution, algae is currently the best candidate for meeting our global energy demands. In addition to algae’s ability to sequester carbon and remediate wastewater, it can be produced using non-potable water sources that are not suitable for other agricultural applications. Also, employing co-generation strategies at dairies and municipal wastewater facilities makes good economic and environmental sense today. Algae has the potential to bridge us to a renewable-energy economy and is already being used to make oils, fuels, plastics, vaccines, nutraceuticals and healthy animal- and fish-food supplies. Algae can even be combusted to produce an energy output similar to coal. New Mexico has seen its statewide algae industry expand in the past two years. Sapphire Energy, the largest algae-to-fuel company in North America, located in Las Cruces and Columbus, NM, is focused on creating fuels from brackish water. Eldorado Biofuels is successfully growing algae in produced or contaminated water generated by the oil and gas industry in Jal. Elixir Biotech, located in Engle, near Spaceport America, will be producing nutritional products and fuels from biochemical feedstocks. Joule Unlimited’s initial project goal in Hobbs is also to produce fuels. There are other NM bioenergy projects in the development stages. Given all of this bio-energy innovation, NM is positioned to become a global leaderin the algae industry.

My company, New Solutions Energy Corporation (NSE), is another exciting venture. NSE has developed one of the first commercially available allweather photo-bioreactors, suitable for growing algae in a wide variety of climates. In addition, NSE is committed to creating green jobs. In collaboration with the Santa Fe Community College (SFCC), NSE has consulted on classes in algae production and building pilot-scale algae systems for training. SFCC has served as an excellent platform for NSE to develop relationships with academia and the algae industry. I am the lead algae instructor at SFCC, co-directing The Biofuels Center of Excellence Program to develop and deliver biofuels trainings throughout the state. The program is supported by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and offers trainings in Algae, Biodiesel, Biomass Energy and Ethanol to participants from NM and across the country. The program has received inquiries from international students as well. Programs such as this are critical to educating and training the public about the importance of bioenergy development and commercial deployment.

The algae development and applied research community is another rapidly expanding network in NM. Los Alamos National Lab, Sandia National Lab, New Mexico State University, University of New Mexico and SFCC are all working on initiatives to stimulate and foster commercial bioenergy production. The New Mexico Consortium is preparing to open the new Entrada Park in Los Alamos, whose mission is to optimize the cultivation of algae and plants for energy as well as for food. Spearheaded by the dedicated and respected scientist, Richard Sayre, this project is an excellent example of the scientific community joining together with the education community to create one of the nation’s top algae research hubs. Collaborations such as these will lead to a more rapid deployment of practical solutions to today’s energy crises.

Given that humans have never encountered the challenges we currently face on this planet, it is easy to feel frightened and overwhelmed. Yet if we are going to successfully confront the crisis, we must focus on the solutions and actions required. For each piece of bad news we hear about climate change, there is a story of inspiration about people working on viable solutions. In NM our innovative individuals and institutions are leading the charge when it comes to algae production for renewable energy and food security. At the state and national level, Sen. Tom Udall is providing critical support for some of the aforementioned projects and collaboratives. The NSE team is excited about the vision, hard work and dedication of the entire biomass energy community. Together we are making great strides towards creating a viable pathway to a sustainable future.

Luke Spangenburg is the president of New Solutions Energy Corporation. 505.795.2081, luke@newsolutionsenergy.com, www.newsolutionsenergy.com

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