Southern Ute Tribe Invests in Algae Fuel


The Southern Ute Indian tribe has contributed almost one-third of Solix Biofuels’ $20 million in capital for a project to make fuel from algae on its reservation, reports the New York Times.

Solix’s advantage over the 200 other algae biofuel developers is its “closed-bioreactor system on an own-and-operate basis.” Basically, Solix produces the carbon dioxide-loving algae in a water tank next to a natural gas processing plant, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, according to Professor Bryan Wilson of Colorado State, a co-founder of three-year-old Solix.

Its second edge over competitors: massive scale. It is “ten times more productive than open pond systems,” writes Cleantech News, ranking Solix at No. 9 in its “15 Algae Fuel Startups, 2010 Edition.”

The Southern Ute investment in biofuels reflects the tribe’s “very long economic view,” says Wilson. By 2020, the algae biofuel industry is likely to produce only 61 million gallons per year globally, Pike Research said in its late-October report – a small number relative to the138 billion gallons of gasoline consumed by the U.S. alone in 2009. Pike’s report does not expect the “first commercial plants with a capacity of at least 1 million gallons until 2014 at the earliest (could even be 2016),” writes AlterNet.org.

Shedding suspicion on “green” industrial production, a new report by Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), “The New Biomassters: Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods,” exposes the equal or greater carbon footprint of biofuels to fossil fuels and warns of environmental hazards like the accidental release of synthetic organisms, which could result in “out-crossing with natural species and contamination of microbial communities in soils, seas, and animals – including us,” Jim Thomas, ETC research program manager, tells AlterNet.org.