Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 | In the early 1990s, San Diego’s moribund economy was revived by a bunch of scientists who figured out how to do things like turn a mobile phone into a multi-media entertainment center and develop a diabetes therapy out of lizard spit.
Now, with the economy tanking again, another bunch of scientists is telling anyone who will listen that the region’s next economic boom might be borne out of pond scum.
Algae that is — green gold, San Diego soda.
San Diego, already home to dozens of companies involved in solar or wind energy, would be a major player in the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar energy economy if a group of local researchers succeed in turning algae into a commercially viable transportation fuel, something they think they can do within a decade.
“[It] is the scientific challenge of our generation,” said Stephen Mayfield, a cell biologist and associate dean at the Scripps Research Institute, referring to the need to cure America of its 200-billion-gallon-a-year oil addiction. “And algae is the answer.”
And a top-notch research infrastructure, a thriving biotech sector and proximity to cheap land in Imperial County, where the plant could be grown on a large scale with plenty of sun, combine to give San Diego a strong foundation for building on algae’s future.