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It’s Time for Alternative Approach to Oil: Sapphire Exec

The ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill has brought into stark relief, for many of us, the challenges we face in today’s energy world.

Here in America, we consume a stunning 19 million barrels of crude oil per day. We use it to support our daily lives in the way we expect to live. Readily available crude oil enables us to go where we want to go, enjoy plentiful and inexpensive food, buy goods from anywhere in the world and have them shipped to us, and use a wide array of materials, every day, that were derived from crude.

We depend upon this amazing energy source, even though over 70 percent of the oil we use comes from non-domestic sources. We depend upon this energy source, even though we know that our use of it damages our environment. We depend upon this energy source, even though new supplies are becoming more and more difficult to access.

Today, that difficulty of access—which drove us to take on huge technology challenges in the deepwater gulf—has contributed to an environmental disaster, right on our doorstep. It is proving to be immensely difficult to solve the problem, given the challenges of operating in such deep water. Such challenges in gaining access to conventional crude, and the risks associated with it, are only going to increase over time. Today’s crisis is our wake-up call.

The good news is that we have a better choice. Other technological breakthroughs, in other fields of science, are making it possible for us to grow our own oil, in a sustainable way, using the Earth’s own cycles. Innovators around the world are growing biocrops in an effort to develop sustainable sources of energy.

Photo by Fred LaSenna

Algae is one of these, and it’s a great choice. While today’s fossil fuels all came from ancient algae blooms, today’s biotechnology breakthroughs have given us a way to speed up that process, producing oil from sunlight and CO2. The marriage of biotechnology, agriculture, and oil refining technology results in a process that can give us fuels, exactly like the ones we use today, with no quality tradeoffs, and at a competitive cost.

This process, which grows algae in paddies (like rice) and processes the resulting oil in today’s refineries, is in development today. It is such a compelling energy solution that it convinced me to leave my career in "big oil" to devote myself fully to making “green crude” a reality.

Ideas like oil from algae, and many others, hold great promise for us as a clean and sustainable energy solution. Given the size of our energy system, we need many of these ideas to work. Getting them to work takes ingenuity, focused attention, and funding. In order to test such ideas to energy scale, it takes millions of dollars in development funds.

Federal policy-makers can help here, by focusing much more attention on the development of alternative liquid transportation fuels as our highest domestic need. Lawmakers have an enormous opportunity at this moment in history to establish federal policies to build a renewable, scalable liquid transportation fuel economy.

Whether it is green crude from algae, or another renewable source, to reach a solution we must incentivize collaboration as farmers, biotechnologists, entrepreneurs, and lawmakers to bring to reality the new ways of meeting America’s energy needs. We must invest in green technology that directly addresses our liquid transportation needs, does not negatively impact other critical resources like food and water, and fits within our existing multi-trillion dollar infrastructure. We must come together and make change happen.

Green Tech - A CNBC Special Report
Green Tech - A CNBC Special Report

Solar, wind, and other renewables that generate electricity are important, but they cannot supplant our need for liquid transportation fuels. While electric vehicles may eventually make a modest contribution, the majority of transportation still requires high performance fuels with the high energy density that only liquid hydrocarbon fuels possess.

If there is one thing our country knows how to do, it is to rise to challenges and make things better. We have that opportunity now to change our energy source. We can do this. We can continue to be the leading technology innovator and the leading global economy.

We can do oil safer, cleaner, and better; we just need to do it a little bit differently.

You can see more of Warner comments about oil and alternative energy during a CNBC special presentation, "America's Crude Reality," Wednesday, June 30 at 8pm ET, hosted by Melissa Francis.