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Sustainable oil from algae: the technology is ready, but what about the politics?

By Bojan Tamburic and Arunima Malik

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Ultimately, all of the oil we use to power our modern lives comes from living creatures such as algae – albeit ones that lived 3.5 billion years ago, before gradually morphing into fossil fuel.

But when we talk about algae biofuel, we mean the green, renewable and sustainable version, rather than traditional fossil crude oil. The main requirements for making algae biofuel are: lots of sunlight, plenty of space, and easy access to the sea. Australia is an algae gardener’s paradise.

To scale up any new technology, we need to consider not just whether we can make it, but also whether it is worth doing. Unfortunately, this involves rather dry concepts like productivity, efficiency, energy balance, and supply chain dynamics. These are critical to the development of business models for new technologies, but sadly they don’t translate easily into language that politicians are interested in.

In the absence of a benevolent billionaire, the private sector is unlikely to take on the risks involved in bringing these emerging technologies to scale. This means that ...