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Algae Biofuels Inject Money Into The Southwest’s Economy

Audio

Aired 1/6/12

San Diego's fledgling Algae Biotechnology industry is employing nearly twice as many people as two years ago.

— A survey by the San Diego Association of Governments found the algae biofuels industry is responsible for 466 local jobs. That's a significant jump over the 210 jobs that existed two years ago. SANDAG's review said local efforts are responsible for a $41 million payroll and another $80 million in economic impacts. The impact will reach far beyond San Diego's borders.

Production facilities are being proposed across the Southwest, including New Mexico and Texas.

Stephen Mayfield in his lab on July 18, 2011. Mayfield is one of the scientists in San Diego working on turning algae into fuel.
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Above: Stephen Mayfield in his lab on July 18, 2011. Mayfield is one of the scientists in San Diego working on turning algae into fuel.

"This year, we'll double the number of jobs in the algae biofuels industry," said Stephen Mayfield, director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology. "It's just that we won't double them here in San Diego. Because San Diego is still very much the research and the headquarters of the companies, but it is not going to be the production site for them."

Two years of research has refined the development of algae strains that grow fast and produce the most oil, according to Mayfield. The critical step this year is moving the technology to large-scale production and harvesting on algae farms. If it works, the impact will be huge.

"The next iteration of those will not be, 'hey let's build one more commercial plant.' It will be, 'this worked. Let's go build a thousand of these,' " said Mayfield.

Several San Diego companies are building large-scale farms, including Sapphire Energy, General Atomics and Synthetic Genomics. How those facilities perform will be a key to the technology's commercial viability.

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