Alternative energy enthusiasts gathered in Seattle Thursday for an industry summit on algae that ends today

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Algae is in the air. The Algal Biomass Organization wants to make sure it stays there.

The slimy, fast-growing organism has gained a following among alternative-energy enthusiasts because it could become a source of biofuel that does not compete with food crops.

More than 600 of them gathered in Seattle Thursday for an industry summit that ends today — twice the number that attended a similar event last year.

The industry is its infancy, and lacks the powerful lobbying machine that has secured subsidies and tax breaks for ethanol and biodiesel.

But the ABO, which is based in Seattle and co-chaired by a Boeing executive, wants to link the diverse players in the field and gain more attention from government and the public.

“The plan would be to obtain some of the same subsidies and tax benefits that the federal and state governments give biofuels,” said John Pierce, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, who helped organize the summit.

Both presidential candidates have promised to create major incentives for renewable fuels, but with a tightening budget resulting from the financial crisis, “there’s going to be competition,” Pierce said.

Having a common forum could help propel innovation in a fragmented industry, said Boeing’s managing director for environmental strategy, Billy Glover, who is also the algae group’s co-chairman.

“So far the work that has been done has been piecemeal,” Glover said.

The organization’s next annual meeting will be in Washington, D.C., and will focus on energy policy, Glover said.

Storied Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla told conference attendants that he hasn’t invested in any algae project yet because he hasn’t seen one that could compete on a cost basis against fossil fuels without long-term subsidies.

But that could happen in the future, he said.

“I’m here because I believe in the potential of algae,” Khosla said.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com