DAVIS, Calif.--UPDATE: John Melo, CEO of alternative fuel (and medicine) maker Amyris Technologies, told an audience at the GoingGreen conference that when he worked at BP two years ago, he was part of a project to determine if hydrogen made sense as an auto fuel.
The answer was yes, decades from now.
"We determined that it would take 40 to 50 years to get hydrogen at scale," he said."It will be a reality. It will just be further out."
In the meantime, there will be a biofuel boom that will go for 20 to 30 years or more. Melo, naturally, sees more hope out of making ethanol, biodiesel or jet fuel with synthetic biology and waste plant matter than making fuel out of food crops. Amyris specializes in synthetic biology, which involves mimicking biological processes for breaking down plant matter into sugars and fuel in labs. The company grew out of research conducted by UC Berkeley's Jay Keasling. It has developed a malaria drug and is now working on fuels.
Recently, Melo said that its organic jet fuel passed a test that showed it could be used at minus 70 degrees Celsius. It gets cold outside of airplanes, after all. (Ed note: I thought he said minus 17. Amyris called to say he said 70. Sorry.)
BP is a name to watch in biofuels. The company will contribute $500 million to Berkeley and the University of Illinois to develop biofuel technologies. Sources in the VC world also say that the company is scoping out tropical real estate to grow feedstocks.
You also see ex-BPers like Melo cropping up at biofuel start-ups.