Going green isn’t just a trendy lifestyle pursuit for Paul Woods—he believes it could be the answer to many of the planet’s most pressing issues, including climate change, energy and water supply. When Woods was 22, his idea that algae could produce ethanol was fostered by a stolen library book (that he still has) when he was a genetics student in Canada in 1984. The concept has been building slowly ever since. In 2006, the idea bloomed with the launch of Algenol, a Bonita Springs-based biofuel company developing a commercially viable algae-to-ethanol production facility that has the attention and financial support of the U.S. Department of Energy, Lee County and Valero Energy Corp., among others.
“In the fall of 1989, I thought of an idea of how to deregulate the natural-gas business that I started in my garage,” he says. “It allowed me to finance research and patent attorneys. After 1989, [ethanol] was a hobby. Once I got a bill from the patent attorney for $89,000. No doubt I had doubts, but I was stubborn enough to keep going. I am happy for the perseverance.”
Woods retired in 2000 from the natural-gas business. It wasn’t until the price of crude oil reached $50 a barrel that he decided the time was right for alternative fuels. “After 11 years of being in the natural-gas business, I was an expert in the fundamentals of energy,” he says. “Low-priced oil was over. We’d never see cheap crude oil again.”
Woods believes he can produce 6,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year with algae and sunlight, with the bonus of recycling carbon dioxide and producing fresh water. A 36-acre bio-refinery is being built to prove the commercial viability of production, along with projects worldwide. “The world wasn’t energy-centric when I thought of the idea. Using carbon to make fresh water is a really elegant, simple process. Ethanol is the fuel of the future.”