For the same reason oil companies are generally fans of anything: because there is profit potential in it. Even though right now the production of biofuels from algae is too expensive to make it worth it on a wide scale, the technology is promising for a number of reasons. First, the costs of producing it are expected to decline as more R&D, both publicly and privately funded, is conducted. Second, algae is very cheap. You can literally skim it off the surface of sewage ponds or other places. Third, you can produce 30 times more energy per pound of algae than you can of traditional biofuel sources such as corn. If enough algae fuel were producted to replace the entire petroleum fuel usage in the United States, you’d need less than 1/7 the land or water area to generate it than the amount of corn planted in America. Given these factors it makes sense at least to sink some R&D dollars into investigating whether the process can become economically feasible. Consequently, Chevron and Shell are both backing algae biofuel projects, and there is a host of smaller companies competing in the area as well, including Sapphire Energy which is funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
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