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By Robert Rapier on Aug 24, 2008 with no responses

Oil Watchdog on Fuel from Algae

I have gotten out of the habit of visiting Oil Watchdog whenever I want a bit of energy-themed comic relief. They are so ‘over the top’ and transparent that it really hasn’t been necessary to debunk them. As I have documented before, on the one hand they accuse oil companies of not supporting alternative energy or donating any of their profits. Yet where oil companies are funding alternative energy and donating to colleges, they are accused of ‘greenwashing’ and attempting to control university research. You can see some of the articles I have written documenting their intellectual dishonesty and inconsistent ‘reporting’ here. As you can see, they will even take a rumor (“I absolutely can’t vouch for the truth of this story…”) and attempt to spread it.

While it has been six months since I have been there, I thought I would check in to see what kind of negative spin they would put on falling gas prices. I was expecting “it’s an attempt to control the election”, which seems to be a common theme during election years (even though the price also falls in non-election years). Instead, Judy Dugan was again proudly putting her ignorance on display:

Show us your algae!

I was reading up today on research about turning pond scum into biodiesel. One promising thread is that algae can be fed the carbon dioxide emitted by power plants, multiplying their oil production on a waste greenhouse gas. Algae may also thrive on ground garbage. It’s a concept that needs intensive, expensive research to prove if algae are an energy savior, a false promise, or something in between. Then I came across a paragraph in a Science Daily article from a few days ago that stopped me cold:

This was ‘above the fold.’ Below the fold, I knew without even looking what kind of story it must have been to stop Dugan cold. She had obviously made the shocking discovery that oil companies are involved in this research!

“Some of these pragmatic issues may have been tackled already by the various private companies, including oil industry giants Chevron and Shell, which are already researching algae fuel, but a published scientific report on these fundamentals will be a major benefit to other researchers looking into algae biofuel.”

Uh-oh! Time to put on the ‘Big Oil is greenwashing and trying to control our energy supplies’ hat:

If Big Oil is doing this research and keeping even interim results to itself, we can’t trust oil companies with anything surrounding our desperate need for a better energy future.

It’s the same reason that universities shouldn’t be taking big bucks from oil companies in return for letting the companies shroud research results in delay, secrecy and proprietary rights.

So, Dugan wants 1). Oil companies taxed into submission (previous posts); 2). Oil companies to put some of their ‘ill-gotten gains’ into research on new energy supplies; 3). But if they do, she wants the results to be publicly available to all. Now, remind me again what the incentive would be for a publicly traded company to do this research if there was no profit to be gained? And wouldn’t other companies – and other countries for that matter – love to sit back and reap the rewards of Chevron’s research?

Here Dugan puts her ignorance up on a pedestal:

But if Chevron is funding the research, it will control the result and can just as easily bury it, calling the effort a disappointing failure.

I don’t guess Dugan is aware of the U.S. DOE Aquatic Species Program. You can read the 328 page close-out report here. You can also read a guest post from John Benemann, the man who co-authored that report:

Algal Biodiesel: Fact or Fiction?

You see Dugan, despite the ignorance that you seem to wear like a badge of honor, the oil companies don’t have a monopoly in this area. The US government studied it for many years, but concluded in their close-out report that costs were too high, and many technical challenges remain. So if Chevron does decide to shelve it, I am sure that you will conclude that they were ‘burying it’ (after all, you are programmed to put the negative spin on). And in my opinion, they will eventually shelve it, for the very reasons that were laid out in the close-out report.

Despite that, Greenfuel Technologies (not an oil company, Dugan) has been making some pretty big claims in this area (claims that violate thermodynamics, according to Krassen Dimitrov). And because there is so much misinformation around the subject of algal fuels, it isn’t surprising that a massive fraud has already been perpetrated on gullible investors. Sorry, Dugan, no oil companies to blame on that one. But if you know a little about the history of the algal biodiesel program, you could have smelled that fraud coming from a mile away.