San Diego Supports Algal Biofuel Research Center

Scientists from University of California-San Diego, The Scripps Research Institute, and other local research institutions have established the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, or SD-CAB. The primary goal of the center is to create a national facility capable of developing and implementing innovative research solutions for the commercialization of fuel production from algae.

"San Diego has a unique combination of life science research institutions, biotechnology companies, and venture capital support to lead the nation in the development of this environmentally friendly source of transportation fuel," said Mayor Jerry Sanders. "As the algal biofuel industry develops, we are confident that San Diego will become a major center for renewable energy development."

This effort, which will mean more jobs and economic activity in San Diego, is already having a positive impact on the region's economy. Research on algal biofuels now employs 272 scientists and other workers in San Diego and provides nearly $16.5 million in payroll and $33 million in economic activity for the region, according to an economic assessment completed recently by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, Service Bureau.

Direct spending on algal biofuels, combined with the additional jobs and spending in related service industries this spending generates, is currently responsible for 513 jobs, $25.4 million in wages, and $63.5 million in economic output in the San Diego region, according to the SANDAG study.

"We are already seeing the direct and indirect benefits of algae research on the San Diego regional economy," said Lisa Bicker, president and chief executive officer of CleanTECH San Diego, a new non-profit corporation formed to accelerate San Diego's position as a world leader in the clean energy economy. "We see it in the form of new jobs and other support for the local economy. As research and other spending on algae grow, we expect to transform what is now over $30 million in economic activity into a several billion-dollar economic machine."

Last year, venture capitalists invested $175.9 million in the United States to develop biofuel from micro algae, according to Biofuels Digest. The industry publication said $100-million of that amount went to Sapphire Energy, a San Diego biotech company that is working to convert algae to an environmentally friendly biofuel for use in automobiles and airliners.

In the Imperial Valley, where SD-CAB scientists will grow large quantities of algae and which has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation, the algal biofuels effort is expected to generate additional jobs and economic activity.

"Algae and biofuels have been identified as one of the key emerging industries in the region," said Timothy Kelley, president and chief executive officer of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation. "We feel that the addition of Imperial Valley will allow the algae industry to attain full production earlier than expected. With the combination of our natural resources and available land, the Imperial Valley is the ideal location for algae as an industry."

"Algae production can occur at every level in Imperial Valley from the biosciences to the production and processing of algae for bio-fuels and food products," added Kelley. "With the abundance of available land, there is a potential to take pilot projects to full-scale commercial operations. This will create jobs and diversify our economy. We welcome the production of algae in the valley, which will be compatible with our current agriculture and renewable energy production."

Micro algae, including single-celled algae and cyanobacteria, grow quickly, need relatively lower nutrient inputs and derive their energy from sunlight. They can be grown at a very large scale and take carbon dioxide from the air as part of their growth process, making carbon sequestration another beneficial byproduct. Compared with crops normally used to produce vegetable oil, such as soybeans or palm, algae can generate from 10 to 50 times the amount of oil per acre.

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