California State Senator Ben Hueso (District 40) visited Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Diego in April to gain a deeper understanding of the growing field of algae production as a benefit to energy, environmental, and economic issues.
Senator Ben Hueso joined Nathan Schoepp, UC San Diego graduate student in chemistry, and Dominick Mendola, senior development engineer at Scripps Institution Oceanography, at the UCSD campus Biological Field Station algal biofuel R&D lab for the California Center for Algae Biotechnology (Cal-CAB). San Diego is home to leading experts on algal genetics and physiology and is uniquely located between the Pacific Ocean and California's Imperial Valley, where there is plenty of outdoor space to grow acres of algae. Through Cal-CAB, science unites with industry to apply lab discoveries from biology, chemistry, and engineering to real-world solutions for sustainable energy and a revitalized economy. San Diego is creating the capabilities for developing and implementing innovative research solutions for the commercialization of fuel production from algae.
Sen. Hueso's district covers much of Southern California, including all of Imperial County, a portion of Riverside County, the San Diego County cities of Chula Vista, Bonita, Imperial Beach, National City, and portions of the city of San Diego. An area within the senator's district that would provide economic and environment benefits from extensive algae production is the famous Salton Sea, which is actually a shallow, saline lake that occupies a desert basin known as the Salton Sink in the southeastern corner of California. It is the largest lake in California and has a unique make-up that results in a special set of issues for the region, including potential air quality problems caused by blowing dust, disrupted communities, and greatly accelerated concentrations of salts and nutrients.
One special problem the Salton Sea faces is that its inflow of water is less than its evaporation rate (average annual precipitation is less than three inches per year), leaving behind salt deposits contaminated by chemicals accumulated over several decades. These problems negatively impact wildlife and human health and make the Salton Sea difficult to clean up. Scientists at Scripps Oceanography and UC San Diego see a multi-part solution for restoring this once-thriving ecosystem and believe algae, which can help to produce raw materials for food and fuel, can be grown on the farmland around the Salton Sea and create benefits for society and the environment.
After visiting the Cal-CAB algae ponds and labs, Sen. Hueso took center stage at the Cal-CAB-hosted Food and Fuel for the 21st Century Symposium (FF21) at UC San Diego. The symposium addressed the world's food and energy requirements in an era when the availability of fossil fuel is decreasing. FF21 facilitated interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle the significant research objectives regarding the use of photosynthetic organisms for enhanced food production and energy independence that cannot be addressed by any one discipline alone.
During the symposium, Sen. Hueso was introduced by UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, who remarked, "Energy is an important component of food, fuel, and the environment, and thinking in a holistic manner is key to solving issues we face today. UC San Diego is uniquely positioned to educate the leaders of the future."
Sen. Hueso then addressed the crowd about the value of collaboration among government, academia, and the private sector. He told the crowd, "When I heard about the applications of [algae] biotechnology to restore the Salton Sea, I got excited by the science and the opportunities for public-private partnerships to find solutions that help with job creation, the economy, and the environment. Scripps and UC San Diego are making investments that give me hope, and the State investment to R&D can streamline the process to ensure a safe environment that benefits our citizens."
- Cindy Clark
April 30, 2013