Brain Storm: How David Berry is Going to Solve the Energy Crisis with Pond Scum


1942 | German scientists discover that algae can be made to store energy-rich oil.

1950s | MIT researchers attempt to grow algae on a large scale — for food — on university rooftops.

1978 | The feds hope to develop an oil alternative and introduce the Aquatic Species Program. More than 3,000 algae strains are discovered over the years, but the program never lives up to its promise.

1996 | With oil prices low and supply lines seemingly secure, the government finally closes down the Aquatic Species Program.

2001 | GreenFuel Technologies sets up shop in Cambridge, pioneering a new algae-fuel movement.

2005 | Hurricane Katrina sends oil prices skyrocketing, renewing interest in alternative fuels.

2007 | The government passes the EISA, setting new mandates for use of renewable fuel. Joule and several other startups join a fresh wave of algae-fuel innovation.

2008 | The company Solazyme powers a Ford F-450 with its algae fuel.

2009 | The government pours $800 million into biofuels. Biotech billionaire Craig Venter cuts a $300 million algae-fuel deal with ExxonMobil. The Wall Street Journal declares this the “summer of algae.”

2010 | Reports cast doubts on algae as an energy silver bullet. The pace slows; Joule however, breaks ground on a pilot plant in Texas, starts testing ethanol production, and — in the lab — achieves an important milestone for ethanol production.

2011 | Joule starts piloting diesel production.