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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Shell plans algae farm for biofuel

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University of Hawaii assistant professor Zackary Johnson displays a light device that allows simultaneous growth of numerous algae cultures.

By BOB KEEFE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 12/12/07
 
Los Angeles — A day after breaking ground in Texas on the nation’s biggest oil refinery, Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced it is building a fuel refinery of a very different type: an algae farm and laboratory in Hawaii that will produce vegetable oil that can be converted to biofuel.

The project on the Kona coast of Hawaii will be a demonstration and test facility, Shell’s U.S. president said. But if it works as planned, Shell and Hawaiian partner HR Biopetroleum Inc. could build a full-scale production plant elsewhere that could produce commercially available biodiesel based on algae oil in the near future.

Algae is promising as a biofuel because it grows quickly, is rich in vegetable oil and can be cultivated in sea water, reducing the use of land and fresh water. Other oil companies have recently launched similar experiments.

“This will demonstrate the efficacy of the process,” John Hofmeister, president of Shell’s Houston-based U.S. subsidiary, Shell Oil Co., said after announcing the project at an environmental conference here Tuesday. “The next step would be a pilot production for commercial [production], and the next stage would be commercialization.”

Monday, Shell and partner Saudi Aramco broke ground on a $7 billion expansion of what will become the nation’s biggest traditional oil refinery in Port Arthur, northeast of Galveston, Texas.

Hofmeister called the back-to-back moves an example of what’s needed to address the growing energy problem in the United States.

“We’re living in both the new world and the old world … because we have a very serious [energy] problem in this country,” he said.

In a speech at the GreenXchange conference here, Hofmeister blasted the energy bill currently being debated in Congress, saying it doesn’t do enough to promote new oil and gas exploration, the development of new energy sources or protect the country’s existing energy resources.

As a result, he predicted, the nation will continue plodding along without a comprehensive energy policy, consuming 10,000 gallons of oil every second of every day – something that’s good for his company but bad for the consumers and the country.

“That’s a swimming pool of oil every second – and that demand still grows,” he said. “This notion that we can somehow continue to import oil to meet growing demand keeps us ever closer to the razor’s edge of energy insecurity.”

Of course many environmental activists and others point to Shell and other oil companies as a big part of the problem for the country’s dependency on oil. Many accuse Shell and other big oil companies of “greenwashing” – trying to look more environmentally friendly than they are – with half-hearted renewable energy projects.

But Hofmeister pointed out that Shell has been working on renewable energy projects for a decade. It has invested $1 billion in such projects in the last five years alone, he said.

“You don’t greenwash for 10 years … you do real work,” he said in a brief interview. “This is real serious.”

While the algae refining test facility is the Shell’s first foray into that sort of biofuel, it also is testing wind, hydrogen and ethanol production.

The goal, Hofmeister said, is for Shell to create a profitable business from renewables by 2015.

The new Shell-HR Biopetroleum joint venture, called Cellana, will operate on about six acres of land and sea leased from the National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority. Scientists from universities in Mississippi, Hawaii and Canada also will be involved.

The companies did not disclose the cost of the facility.

http://www.ajc.com/business/content/business/stories/2007/12/11/195314_SHELL_bz1212.html

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