Lest we forget the nature of research and development

Lest we forget the nature of research and development

As I was surfing the blogosphere today looking for something to write about I came across Greentech Media‘s post, Algae Biodiesel: It’s $33 a Gallon.

The headline, not to mention the first paragraph are both real downers,

Although many believe that algae will become one of the chief feedstocks for diesel and even hydrocarbon-like fuels, growing large amounts of algae and then converting the single-celled creatures remains expensive, said experts at the National Biodiesel Conference taking place in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Which brings me to my point, the nature of research and innovation — and that is, someone will find a way.  Someone will figure out how to do it.  Just as in healthcare people figure out how to cure diseases, people will figure out our fuel problem.  We are just at the very beginning of figuring this out.

To put this in perspective, let’s take a look at the development of one of the biggest consumers of fuel, the automobile.  The Ford Model T had a 2.9 L, 20.2 hp, 4-cylinder engine, got between 13-21 mpg, ran on gasoline and ethanol and ran at top speeds of 40-45 mph.  Innovative of Ford, I have to say; very forward thinking, running on ethanol.  According to Wikipedia though because of Prohibition and the decreasing cost of gasoline the use of ethanol as a fuel became impractical.

Now compare that to the 140 hp 2.0 L engine on the Ford Focus, which gets 24-25 mpg.  Now that’s innovation!

So making fuel from algae, that’s innovative, and eventually someone will figure out how to make it more cheaply.  Maybe even use biotechnology.  In fact the article goes on to say at the end that some companies are doing just that by,

exploiting genetic science and fermenting techniques to accomplish the task. In fermentation, specific species of algae are locked into brewing kettles with sugars derived from old plant matter.

So, will we solve our domestic fuel problem? Yes, yes we will.  Over the years, Ford built a better car.  Through biotechnology we will build a better fuel.