President Obama admitted today that he does not have a "silver bullet" solution for skyrocketing gas prices, but he proposed alternative energy sources such as "a plant-like substance, algae" as a way of cutting dependence on oil by 17 percent.
"We’re making new investments in the development of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance, algae -- you've got a bunch of algae out here," Obama said at the University of Miami today. "If we can figure out how to make energy out of that, we'll be doing alright. Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in America."
The Department of Energy (DOE) currently spends about $85 million on 30 research projects "to develop algal biofuels," according to the White House, which announced that Obama is committing another $14 million to the idea.
Obama did not say when he expected algae-based fuel to reach that level, but the federal government has a dodgy track record with respect to developing alternative vehicle fuels. Biodiesel, for example, accounted for less than 1 percent of the diesel fuel market as of 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration. And of course there's ethanol -- after four decades, tens of billions of dollars in subsidies, and draconian mandates that force it on unwilling consumers, ethanol was five percent of vehicle consumption (by volume) as of 2008. Although algae-to-gas is a very different idea, it is still in its early stages.
"We're not going to transition out of oil anytime soon," Obama added, before touting the record high domestic gas production right now and the agreement with Mexico to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, while still calling for expanded investment in alternative energy.
Oil industry leaders reject Obama's claim to have given significant support to oil production. "These have been the most difficult three years from a policy standpoint that I've ever seen in my career," Bruce Vincent, president of Swift Energy, an oil and gas company in Houston, said yesterday. "They've done nothing but restrict access and delay permitting."
Obama affirmed the need to protect the planet by developing clean energy alternatives, but The Washington Examiner's Michael Barone argues that he hasn't been consistent even on that front. "We’ve prohibited a pipeline, the safest way to transport oil, from Canada, but we’re aiding Mexico in offshore drilling, which is riskier, and by a firm that lacks the experience of the U.S. firms we have been trying to prevent drilling in the same body of water," Barone wrote yesterday. "Does this make any sense at all?"