BREAKING NEWS: First Cars Run on Algae Biodiesel; Breakthrough Production Possible

  • Published on January 21st, 2008 by
 

Algae Biodiesel Car

Just a few hours ago, the world’s first pair of cars to run on algae biodiesel were announced at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The cars were prominently displayed outside the world premier of Fields of Fuel, Josh Tickell’s stunning new documentary on biodiesel and the state of a world dependent on petroleum.

Burning a B20 blend of algal biodiesel, these vehicles are the first to make use of a potentially revolutionary way to grow algae for biodiesel production. Solazyme, a synthetic biology company out of San Francisco, has developed a way to grow algae that essentially hijacks the photosynthetic process to optimize oil production. Like any good photosynthetic organism, algae convert the sun’s energy into sugars, which then power the oil-producing process (algae can be over 50% oil). But getting the algae enough sunlight to grow efficiently has been a particular stumbling block to large scale algae production.

So what if you could just feed the algae sugar and skip the sunlight part altogether?





This is precisely what Solazyme has done: they’re feeding sugar to specialized strains of algae that can be grown in the dark.

Outside the film I spoke with Harrison F. Dillon (CTO) and Jonathan S. Wolfson (CEO), founders of Solazyme, and they told me they’re already producing “thousands” of gallons of algae biodiesel, with potential to mass produce “in the next two years”.

If you’ve been following my posts on the GM Coskata ethanol announcement, I have one thing to say to you: the plot thickens.

But it still begs the question of where the sugar going to come from. I’ll have more on this story and the film later.

More posts on this topic:

Chevron Backs Solazyme’s Algae Biodiesel Production Process (+Video)

Cellulosic Ethanol Sugar Diverted to Algae Biodiesel Production





About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.

  • Terry

    While this idea of growing algae without sunlight sounds interesting, I wonder where that sugar will come from? It still sounds like we will be using food crops as a feedstock for our fuel which is just not sustainable in the long term.

  • Terry

    While this idea of growing algae without sunlight sounds interesting, I wonder where that sugar will come from? It still sounds like we will be using food crops as a feedstock for our fuel which is just not sustainable in the long term.

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  • That’s a good point, and I had trouble getting more details from the founders (it was a busy screening). They mentioned sugar from sugarcane as a possibility.

    I’ll be looking into this more closely as time permits…

  • That’s a good point, and I had trouble getting more details from the founders (it was a busy screening). They mentioned sugar from sugarcane as a possibility.

    I’ll be looking into this more closely as time permits…

  • Pingback: Chevron Backs Solazyme’s Algae Biodiesel Production Process (+Video) : Gas 2.0()

  • Ian Lawson

    There’s scant information here, so any comment will do . . . here’s mine: You can grow algae with very little light anyway, 10% full sun will do, done with low cost lights dipped in the water where algae plants can be harvested daily. Why bother with sugars that cost. Done indoors with high yield strain algae is the way to go . . . only problem is which of about 20,000 strains is the one?

  • Ian Lawson

    There’s scant information here, so any comment will do . . . here’s mine: You can grow algae with very little light anyway, 10% full sun will do, done with low cost lights dipped in the water where algae plants can be harvested daily. Why bother with sugars that cost. Done indoors with high yield strain algae is the way to go . . . only problem is which of about 20,000 strains is the one?

  • Ian Lawson

    There’s scant information here, so any comment will do . . . here’s mine: You can grow algae with very little light anyway, 10% full sun will do, done with low cost lights dipped in the water where algae plants can be harvested daily. Why bother with sugars that cost. Done indoors with high yield strain algae is the way to go . . . only problem is which of about 20,000 strains is the one?

  • Ian,

    Isn’t one of the big problems with growing algae that as biomass increases the amount of available sunlight decreases (as grown in a tube or bag)?

    What the founders are saying about feeding algae sugar is that this process is somehow more efficient than other methods. See the next post for [a little bit] more information.

  • Ian,

    Isn’t one of the big problems with growing algae that as biomass increases the amount of available sunlight decreases (as grown in a tube or bag)?

    What the founders are saying about feeding algae sugar is that this process is somehow more efficient than other methods. See the next post for [a little bit] more information.

  • Pingback: Cellulosic Ethanol Sugar Diverted to Algae Biodiesel Production : Gas 2.0()

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  • Joe Davis

    Do you have any information about Algae biofuels for aviation?

  • Joe Davis

    Do you have any information about Algae biofuels for aviation?

  • Joe Davis

    Do you have any information about Algae biofuels for aviation?

  • LFR

    For more information about algae based biodiesel, check out http://www.greenstarusa.com

    The Green Star algae facility (located in Montana) is one of the world’s largest demonstration facilities and has served as a scientific and engineering milestone towards the commercial production of algae for energy and food.

  • LFR

    For more information about algae based biodiesel, check out http://www.greenstarusa.com

    The Green Star algae facility (located in Montana) is one of the world’s largest demonstration facilities and has served as a scientific and engineering milestone towards the commercial production of algae for energy and food.

  • LFR

    For more information about algae based biodiesel, check out http://www.greenstarusa.com

    The Green Star algae facility (located in Montana) is one of the world’s largest demonstration facilities and has served as a scientific and engineering milestone towards the commercial production of algae for energy and food.

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