Del Mar-based Prize Capital announced at last week’s Algae Biomass Summit, a meeting in San Diego of experts in using algae for fuel, food, purifying water and other purposes a $10 Million algae fuel prize.  They deserve a major publicity push – so here it goes.

Lee Stein, Prize Capital’s founder said the goal is a to offer $10 million, which seems to suggest the cash isn’t in hand or something, but in elaboration Stein said the actual amount may change, because the rules and guidelines for the prize aren’t final. But the main goal is fixed, he said, which is to add a new source of fuel and not to compete with food crops.

At first thought a simple goal achieved would be a winner, but there is a lot to this, its not like a car showing up and watched for a few hours to get so far with so much fuel, or launching a lift vehicle to orbit in a few minutes.  It’s much more complex – involving much more time, and involving a lot more oversight, that would be multiplied by the number of entrants.  It seemed cagey to start, but the complexities demand a certain chain of policies to one, make it fair, and second to assert that an honest winner gets whatever funds are won.  Running this competition is going to cost major dollars over and above the prize money.

OK, that sort of clears it up.  So lets have a look at what the company web site offers before we jump for joy at the idea someone will win the money.

Prize Capital is creating a high profile, international competition to find sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels.  And they’re honest enough to make clear that they are still developing the competition.  The company’s web page offers a set of four pdf documents on what is sorted out so far in clearly marked ‘draft’ legends.  Please forgive the absence of direct links to the pdfs, the firm needs the traffic, both for media promotion and to aid in recruiting others for the funding.  Please give the page a click and look over the documents.

The first is a single page overview of the current draft rule set.  The winner is determined by being the team that produces the most finished renewable diesel fuel per acre of land that the fuel growing and production facility occupies between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2014, with a minimum of 3,000 “net-gallons” produced per acre, at a cost of no more than $3/gallon.  If you’re in the business you probably want to read this one.

Prize Capital Straw Man Draft Version 12

Prize Capital Straw Man Draft Version 12

The next document is the “straw man” (at least version No. 12 at this writing) draft that gets into the details.  Its going to get complex here and offers some unusual points that are ‘straw man draft” for certain.  One idea being floated is competitors will provide standard uniform sponsored diesel powered cars with five days average fuel production sourced from the preceding twelve month’s production, produced on the equivalent of one acre of land.  One wonders now, just how the kinds of folks deep into algae production will do that?

The straw man document goes on to explore the potential of algae and gets to a single page of very brief explanations of the algae problems.  Here on one page with some graphics might be the best short overview of the algae issues to date.  (Note that progress has been made on these.)  By page 10 the document gets into such things as verification and supporting components.  Over the next few pages some insight can be gained on the deeper details of the prize operations and some of the hard rules and defined terms.

Lastly the straw man document cover the prize financing.  Here is truly and illuminating narrative.  It seems that the Prize Capital folks have given this serious thought and have a firm idea where and how to secure the unfounded portion of the budget.  They have an excellent shot of getting this done, but there is a lot of work ahead of them.

The third document is a report called the “Workshop Summary” that describes the process Prize Capital has, is and will be using to finalize the offering.  It’s a short, curious read, offers some insight on what goes on in the background and can offer others who are considering offering or wondering how such a thing comes into being a useful background view.

The last document seems to be a pitch for support both in the media, and to others seeking the benefits an algae industry could offer.  Prize Capital is understandably keying in a major way the California angle as they are there and there is a large group of nearby competitor potentates handy.

Biofuel Research Companies Near San Diego

Biofuel Research Companies Near San Diego

When one considers the need for alternative sources of hydrocarbon fuels, algae is and should be the world’s largest contributor – someday.  Perhaps the prize approach will make an impact, but this writers senses that the prize would go over better with the potential participants if the problems for commercial scale could be solved rather than racing cars and whatnot.  But I could be wrong . . . the media is a fickle thing and racin’ might be worthwhile.  But this sort of idea bewilders me.

Good luck to the Prize Capital people and those who associate with them.  They are doing something worthwhile, important and beneficial even if seemingly a little skewed in execution – they are in California after all.

At first one is cheered to see a prize at all for algae or any other form of energy or fuel production.  Then one sees there is lot more to this than first impressions suggest.  Maybe Prize Capital can get it together, and probably will.  They announced they are committed now to getting it done.  This writer hopes so.

It matters more that there is a prize and the attendant publicity.  The participants are going ahead in any case, it just offers another route to publicity for them as well as a shot at some new cash or rewards for their people.  If the prize never gets won or paid, the winner and most participants will win in much larger ways.  In the end, it’s about having some fun in a very very serious business with some very serious people making very serious investments.

Let the competition begin!  Ask for that master prize participation document and get involved.


5 Comments so far

  1. takchess on October 13, 2009 3:41 AM

    It must be difficult to come up with these marks and to properly measure them. It is an interesting concept.

    I’m wondering how the Progressive Xprize Auto is doing. the buzz on it has really slowed down. Does anyone know when this contest is actually taking place?

  2. Matt on October 13, 2009 7:38 AM

    Measuring cost per gallon may be the most difficult challenge. It’s easy to hide costs by doing things like buying equipment and reselling it to the competitors at below market prices.

  3. Mackenzie Hardridge on May 27, 2011 9:30 AM

    Interesting read, perhaps the best article iv’e browse today. We learn everyday cheers to you!

  4. Haywood Rochin on September 5, 2011 8:38 PM

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  5. Dudley Codell on October 11, 2011 1:49 PM

    I’ve been checking your blog for a while now, seems like everyday I learn something new 🙂 Thanks

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