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San Diego Green Companies React to Obama Energy Plan

Rising fuel prices at home and continued unrest across the Middle East have prompted another call for energy independence. President Obama has called on the nation to achieve a one-third reduction in oil imports over the next decade. The proposal also calls for the development of biofuels, including the algae-based fuel already being produced on a small scale in the San Diego region.

Stephen Mayfield, PhD., UCSD professor and founder of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SDCAB), explains that the technology is available: "We've technically achieved it,” he said. “We have taken algae, we've grown it up, we've extracted oil, we've converted that to gasoline, to diesel and to jet fuel."

The fuel was then successfully tested on commercial jetliners, heavy-duty trucks and cars.

Mayfield said the next step is to fund the investment needed to mass-produce the alternative fuel. He said he is encouraged by President Obama's speech on Thursday, but cautions it's similar to what presidents have been saying since the 1950s.

If the requests made by President Obama are met, the San Diego and Imperial County regions could see an even bigger rise in green job creations. In recent years, green sector jobs in San Diego have led California in growth at 6 percent compared to the state’s overall rate of 3 percent.

Skeptics of alternative fuels have long criticized the high cost of production and even higher cost of investments needed for mass-production.

Mayfield explained that the reason gasoline can have such a low cost is due to the scale at which it is produced. Once the biotech industry can achieve that economy of scale, the U.S. can spend the same amount of money for fuel domestically instead of sending it overseas.

During his speech at Georgetown University, President Obama stressed that America, from now on, must always keep alternative energy and fuel in mind, not just when gasoline prices are reaching record highs.

Mayfield argues that gasoline prices are only going to keep increasing due to the fact that it will eventually run out. According to the British bank HSBC, the world has less than 50 years of oil available, all while quickly developing countries like China and India continue to demand more oil by the day.

The United States imports nearly 11 million barrels of oil daily, currently at an average price of $100 per barrel. “That is $1.1 billion a day that could be spent domestically on biofuels,” said Mayfield.

Currently, the San Diego region is home to almost 800 clean technology companies, about 30 of which concentrate on the advancement of algae and biofuels.

Local universities like UCSD, San Diego State University, the University of San Diego and Mira Costa College will be taking part in offering a six-month bio-energy training program. EDGE (Education and Developing workers for the Green Economy), which is paid for by a $4 million grant by the Department of Labor, aims at offering job training for green sector jobs in the region.

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Avatar for user 'lewisglarsen'

lewisglarsen | March 31, 2011 at 10:35 a.m. ― 5 years, 12 months ago

In his speech yesterday, President Obama wants the US to lead the world in an array of innovative new energy technologies than can help reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil. He also feels strongly that nuclear power generation is a vital component of the overall US energy portfolio since, unlike fossil fuels, nuclear processes don’t release carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere and thus potentially help ameliorate global warming.

His vision for the future of energy is all well and good. However, the potential risks underlying present-day fission technologies are all-too-apparent in the slowly unfolding horror at the failing Fukushima nuclear plant complex in Japan.

That being the case, is there an alternative nuclear technology that could potentially be developed that might provide society with a much safer, cleaner, even ‘greener’ form of nuclear energy going forward into the future? Fortunately, such a possibility does exist and it is called Low Energy Nuclear Reactions or LENRs. Unlike fission and fusion processes which primarily involve what physicists call the ‘strong interaction,’ key aspects of LENRs depend upon the ‘weak interaction’ --- this is exactly what makes them ‘green.’

Importantly, LENRs are not ‘weak’ energetically --- their reaction pathways can release just as much nuclear binding energy as fission and fusion reactions, but without emitting dangerous ‘hard’ neutron or gamma radiation and without producing large quantities of long-lived, hazardous radioactive wastes.

While little-heralded in the media, the physics of LENRs has been unraveled and published in respectable peer-reviewed academic journals. Thus the basic science is essentially complete; what is left to accomplish is the key task of device engineering. While successful commercialization of LENR is not a certainty at this point, it holds extraordinary promise as a breakthrough energy technology and deserves a far higher level of government and private funding and R&D effort than it has received to date. To learn more about this technology and where it might fit in the global energy portfolio, a White Paper is available at

Lewis Larsen, President and CEO, Lattice Energy LLC, Chicago, IL

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