Ukraine and more biofuels – politics and energy research and development

My mind is on the Ukraine a lot these days. My dear betrothed lives there. For those of you living in a cave, Russia and NATO were having a little tiff over Georgia. Last month, a US official, Richard Holbrooke, predicted that Ukraine would be next. I think the situations are pretty different, and the Guardian agrees. From some reports I heard through the underground grapevine (who can you trust these days?) Georgia tried to expel some ethnic Russians. That’s why Russia stepped in. Or Russia cooked up the story as an excuse after they moved in. Who knows? But Georgia has allies and European ambitions… so we got escalations.

Will Ukraine try to expel its ethnic Russians? Doubtful. It’s a much bigger country with a lot more Russians. Could Russia claim this was happening as an excuse to annex Crimea (where they have navy bases)? Maybe. If Russia tries to annex Crimea for whatever reason, I don’t know what I’ll do.

I’m a scientist, not a soldier. And what side do you fight for? Besides, I don’t speak Russian well at all.


I had a faint notion in the back of my mind of going to Ukraine some day to see if I could start a biofuels R&D business. It’s a fertile country with a huge energy deficit and an underused intelligentsia. It seems like a prime location. But the political situation, clearly, leaves much to be desired.

A company spin out just started up here at the U. of Washington with what seems to be the basic business model that I think could succeed in that kind of environment. Rapid development of new algae strains for fuel production on land or sea. It sounds perfect. The don’t do recombinant genetics, it looks like just forward screening, but I think I would add some splicing if budgets allowed. But I would definitely consider rapid screening using micro-scale systems. How fast can a new algae strain go into production?

I would bet that the main practical problems will be political. A dollar can go a lot farther in Ukraine, but not if it gets taxed at the 40% tariff rate. And if government dissolves, then where is a company that depends on a laissez-faire tax system and a free energy market? Because those would be pretty important to this company.

You know… that could be an issue here.