Algae Harvesting and the Opportunities for a New Energy Ethic

Giovanni Frigo

Recent improvements in algal microbiology and bio-engineering are paving the way for a switch to an algae-based energy system. This paper argues that algae harvesting systems (e.g. NASA’s OMEGA project) have the potential to generate, not just energy, but a new politics and ethics of energy. Even though algae harvesting plants may be suitable for large size power plants, this paper argues that their technical arrangement makes them better adapted for small (i.e. farm/family-size) and medium (i.e. municipality) ownership. Moving from Winner’s idea that certain technologies have “inherently political” inclinations/properties, this type of algae harvesting will lead to greater energy autonomy on a local scale, allowing a more democratic control over energy production, consumption and distribution. It may also enhance environmental justice, and encourage the development of a new, more sustainable energy ethics.