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The Guardian: Shell plans to take on greener tinge by growing algae

Terry Macalister ,
Wednesday December 12 2007

Shell is going to grow marine algae to convert into biofuel, the oil company announced yesterday.

The decision to build an experimental plant came as another clean-fuel pioneer, D1 Oils, called on environmentalists to end their “generic” condemnation of biofuels and support those pursuing sustainable products not in competition with food.

Shell has formed a joint venture company with HR Biopetroleum under which they will construct a demonstration facility on the Kona coast of Hawaii Island to harvest algae, which grows very rapidly and, they claim, can provide 15 times more oil a hectare than alternatives such as rape.

“Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small C02 footprint,” said Graeme Sweeney, Shell’s executive vice-president of future fuels and carbon, who admitted the commercial potential of the scheme still had to be proved.

Greenpeace described the move as “potentially interesting” but said it did not make up for the kind of carbon-intensive operations Shell is pursuing in Canadian tar sands.

A number of trials with algae undertaken by other organisations have ended in failure, but Sweeney said the political and commercial environment was changing as governments introduced tougher curbs on C02. He denied the scheme was designed to take public attention away from other carbon-heavy schemes such as the Canadian tar sands that have enraged green groups, saying growing global demand for energy meant all types of fuels would be needed in future.

He insisted that only non-modified marine microalgae species would be grown and strenuous efforts would be made to safeguard local environment and marine eco-systems.

Shell says algae can double their mass several times a day, beating rivals such as soya or the jatropha plants used by D1, which has a joint venture with BP.

Speaking at the climate change summit in Bali, Karl Watkins, founder and non-executive director of D1, called on non-governmental organisations to be more discerning in their criticism of biofuels. “Environmental and development NGOs are right to be critical of soya and palm that are produced unsustainably in areas such as Brazil and Indonesia,” he said. “Because these attacks don’t differentiate the sustainable biofuels crops like jatropha from the less sustainable like soya and palm, the NGOs are undermining the industry as a whole.” and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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