The steam engine wasn’t invented in the eighteenth century—it was invented in AD 60. But Romans instead stuck to their old standby technology: slaves. Now, we’re in danger of repeating that mistake with biofuels, writes David Ewing Duncan for Portfolio. While Congress is pumping subsidies into corn-based ethanol, better solutions—such as algae—are begging for attention.
Sapphire Energy, for example, has devised an algae-based fuel that it says it can produce for $60 a barrel. Unlike corn, the algae fuel won’t increase global food prices, and it’s carbon neutral. But agribusiness has lobbied hard to tilt the playing field toward ethanol. “The government runs the risk of discouraging a real future of renewable energy,” says Sapphire’s CEO. Just like Rome.