Algae's Second Try

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Science  02 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6047, pp. 1238-1239
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6047.1238

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Fifteen years ago, the United States gave up on algae-based biofuels. But since 2000, more than $2 billion in private funds have flooded into the field. In May, Solazyme, an algae biofuels company, raised $227 million on the stock market. Last year, ExxonMobil announced it would invest up to $600 million in the field, with up to half going to Synthetic Genomics, a start-up looking, like Solazyme, to use synthetic biology to create commercial fuelmaking algae strains. And the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies have jumped back on board contributing hundreds of millions of dollars more, including $104 million from the recent economic stimulus package to Sapphire Energy to build a large-scale algae fuel demonstration facility. So why the change? Biotechnology has made massive strides in recent decades, now making it relatively easy to tinker with algae in ways not possible during the first flurry of interest.