Cara Meghan Starbuck Downes, an environmental economist at New Mexico State University, is on a mission: to make the biofuel industry a reality. With partnerships in academia, private industry and in the federal government, Downes is crunching the numbers and finding out how to best move this industry toward commercialization.
“Algal biofuel can be refined into a variety of fuels, including gasoline,” she says. “I would run my car on algal-based gasoline, if I could get my hands on a couple of gallons.”
Recognizing the biofuels industry as a “combination of high-tech science and agriculture,” Downes is part of a multi-disciplinary team creating a dynamic model of an algae-based biofuel industry in New Mexico. The successful production of biocrude could mean a more stable and secure supply chain for the U.S. and holds the potential of tens of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenue for the desert southwest.
Dr. Downes’s collaborations are wide-ranging. She is coordinating NMSU’s efforts in the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts consortium, an association awarded $49 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to study the commercialization of algae-based fuel. Moreover, she works closely with the Southwestern Biofuels Association to bring more energy jobs to the state.
An assistant professor of economics and international business in the College of Business, Downes earned her undergraduate degree in economics from NMSU. She graduated from the University of New Mexico with an M.A. and Ph.D. in economics (with an emphasis in environmental and natural resource economics).