Rick Knight: Algae fuels merit attention

[USA] Exxon Mobil has been deemed a climate change villain for years, with good reason, but now seems to be putting its engineering firepower to work on climate solutions. Unless you prioritize revenge over renewal, this is a positive development.

As a long-time biofuels researcher myself, I find its efforts to make motor fuels from algae both interesting and credible. There are still daunting hurdles to clear, but the fact that Exxon Mobil is putting a half-billion dollars on the line, shows it recognizes a need to offer carbon-neutral technologies in the near future.

Of course, even if successful, algae fuels alone will not bring an end to vehicle emissions. But that’s no reason to slow down. We will need many competing and complementary innovations to knock down planet-heating carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup. Diesel fuel from algae could be an important one.

The best way to create the right market conditions for such innovations is to slap a rising price on fossil carbon at the point of extraction, and then recycle that money back to taxpayers as a straightforward, equal-per-capita carbon dividend. Variations on this idea have been proposed by the non-partisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the conservative Climate Leadership Council.

It will straddle the gulf between conservative and liberal priorities by preserving freedom of choice for businesses while providing economic security for low and middle-income families, and it will also slash CO2 emissions while creating millions of jobs.


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