San Diego: Algae capital of the world

Did you know San Diego is the world’s mecca for businesses that are at the cutting-edge of commercial algae development?

“Algae?” you say incredulously.

But before you dismiss this as an idea that is “20 years away,” let me begin by stating that these companies are already producing a host of algae products that are on the market today.

For example, algae is used in seaweed beauty products, juice products, and algae/seaweed nutritional supplements, which are rich in Omega-3s. (Fish get their Omega-3s from algae, so an algal nutritional supplement just cuts out the middleman.)

Now, commercial algae development is being parlayed into the world of fuels. Fossil-fuel based petroleum is originally derived from algae, or phytoplankton that eat algae. Counter to common myth, petroleum is not made from dinosaurs – it’s much, much older than that. While it takes nature 300-400 million years to produce oil, San Diego’s commercial algae companies can do it in just a few days.

This week, I moderated a discussion at ACORE’s National Defense Forum in San Diego. The forum brought together perspectives on using biofuels as a way to critically improve our national security strategy, and the forum also explored why San Diego is leading the development in algal fuels.

Take, for example, Sapphire Energy, which is based in San Diego. Sapphire is producing what’s dubbed a “green crude” at its facility in a remote part of New Mexico. Algae projects like Sapphire’s can be produced on non-arable land where soil may have a high salinity or otherwise be inhospitable for other uses.

Sapphire’s green crude is just like a barrel of petroleum-based oil, only it’s renewable and has recently sequestered carbon dioxide in its growth. The crude can be used in all the same ways as petroleum – jet fuel, diesel, kerosene, and even chemicals for beauty products.

Other cutting-edge algae companies that call San Diego home include Cellana and Synthetic Genomics, and there are large research initiatives based out of UC-San Diego and Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

There are reasons why investors are pouring money into commercial algae development. The technology is not 20 years away. There are jobs to be created and there’s money to be made growing algae in San Diego.


Filed in: BlogMary Solecki