Car Running on Algae Fuel to Cross Country on Just 25 Gallons of Fuel

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We usually don’t report on the renewable energy or environmental impact beat, but sometimes you see something that is just too cool not to share. Algaeus, the world’s first algae-powered plug-in hybrid car, was unveiled in San Francisco last week. The pet project of algae fuel producer, Sapphire Energy, Algaeus is so efficient that SE is claiming it could make an entire coast to coast cross country trip on as little as 25 gallons of fuel. Just to prove it, the prototype will be traveling with a host of other ‘green’ vehicles to tour the US and promote alternative fuel. Check out a brief video from AutolineDetroit after the break.

This car is traveling across the country...on algae based fuel. Cool.

This car is traveling across the country...on algae based fuel. Cool.

According to the press release, the coast to coast trip will be a ten day journey (September 8 -18) that culminates in the nationwide premier of the new movie Fuel by Josh Tickell of Veggie Van fame. See the trailer below. While the media coverage of the movie is sure to be hyperbolic, I’m much more interested in the premises behind Sapphire Energy. This San Diego based company hopes to use its algae-based fuel to work in the three major petrol markets: gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. They plan on ramping up production to a rate of than 2 million gallons of diesel per year in the next two years. That’s a small blip on the petroleum market, but a blip that is arriving much sooner than many expected.

Sapphire Energy uses algae to photosynthetically produce a fuel using only water and carbon dioxide. That fuel is near to being chemically identical to the fuel you put in your car. It’s a ‘green’ energy because the carbon captured during fuel production is more or less equal to the carbon released during burning. Current refinement and production levels limit the algae-fuel to being used as an additive. The eventual idea is to grow much more algae in endless rows of transparent containers, sort of like a fuel-farm. While algae farms could be grown almost anywhere with sunlight and water, Sapphire Energy wants to focus on non-arable land. One of the big advantages algae-fuel has over biodiesel, they contend, is that it can be produced without interfering with food crops and the food market.

The Algaeus, a modified Prius, looks really cool, but the 25 gallon claim is likely hiding some hand-waving. How often do you think they’re going to rely on plugging in the plug-in hybrid car? And what about the algae to normal diesel fuel mixture? Supposedly it’s only 5% or so. Whenever a technology is linked to a movie, I get a little skeptical, but even if the Algaeus is fueled by hype, I think Sapphire Energy is based on some really promising concepts.

Fossil fuels have many disadvantages, but the one that springs to mind right now is immutability. It takes millions of years for FFs to develop, so you can’t design new ones. Oh, the production and processing wizards can turn crude oil into everything from petrol to plastic, but the raw material stays the same. Working with a living medium like algae doesn’t just capitalize on promises of ‘green energy’ it also links up with the accelerating research in biotechnology. Genetic engineering, present and future, will allow us to refine and improve algae-based fuels for years to come. Green is good. Green and evolving is better.

Discussion — 10 Responses

  • Tom Gable September 17, 2009 on 6:02 pm

    You are right about hype. This is really a great cross-country promotion for the movie. The Algaeus algae-fuel car uses 25 gallons of gasoline, with 5 percent from algae, or 1.25 gallons. The great mileage comes from plugging in and recharging the electric vehicle batteries, not using algae fuel. This is basically a Hypemobile that gets great media mileage but ranks very low in science, true PR and reputation building.

    We compiled comments from many sources on our blog: http://bit.ly/weigs

  • Tom Gable September 17, 2009 on 2:02 pm

    You are right about hype. This is really a great cross-country promotion for the movie. The Algaeus algae-fuel car uses 25 gallons of gasoline, with 5 percent from algae, or 1.25 gallons. The great mileage comes from plugging in and recharging the electric vehicle batteries, not using algae fuel. This is basically a Hypemobile that gets great media mileage but ranks very low in science, true PR and reputation building.

    We compiled comments from many sources on our blog: http://bit.ly/weigs

  • XM833 September 18, 2009 on 1:52 pm

    Given that algae are aquatic, how much water is required to produce a gallon of fuel? The company proposes to use non-arable land, but the water requirements may be significant.

  • XM833 September 18, 2009 on 9:52 am

    Given that algae are aquatic, how much water is required to produce a gallon of fuel? The company proposes to use non-arable land, but the water requirements may be significant.

  • Adrian Vance September 18, 2009 on 5:41 pm

    This does not sound right. We have a process that produces butanol, which is an ideal fuel, 100 Octane, no water, high conversion compared to ethanol, but it needs much more space than could be had in a car.

    • Aaron Saenz Adrian Vance September 18, 2009 on 5:47 pm

      Just to be clear: the algae fuel is not grown in the car. The engine used is a standard combustion engine, just attached to the hybrid electric systems.

  • Adrian Vance September 18, 2009 on 1:41 pm

    This does not sound right. We have a process that produces butanol, which is an ideal fuel, 100 Octane, no water, high conversion compared to ethanol, but it needs much more space than could be had in a car.

    • Aaron Saenz Adrian Vance September 18, 2009 on 1:47 pm

      Just to be clear: the algae fuel is not grown in the car. The engine used is a standard combustion engine, just attached to the hybrid electric systems.

  • Used Transmission September 23, 2010 on 5:42 pm

    This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Plese tell me, thanks

  • http://www.leasecar.co.uk November 8, 2010 on 4:21 pm

    Something does need to be done and we really need to find a replacement before it really is too late.