Algae Biodiesel Goes On Sale In San Francisco Area


While some people may scoff at the notion of using seaweed and pond scum to power our vehicles, the potential for algae to replace petroleum as a sustainable fuel source is there. Last week four San Francisco Bay-area gas stations began selling a biodiesel blend of 20% algae-sourced fuel at market rates.

The B20 biodiesel fuel comes from Propel Fuels, with 20% of the diesel sourced from sustainable algae. The price of $4.25 a gallon is on par with regular diesel fuels, and will soon go on sale at four gas stations around the Bay area. It can be run on any standard diesel-power car with no modifications.

The algae fuel is better for the environment both at the production and emissions level. Algae grows on a steady diet of CO2 and sunlight, therefore absorbing some of the carbon dioxide it puts back into the air. The fuel itself also emits 30% less particulates, 20% less carbon monoxide, and 10% fewer hydrocarbons.

While an important step, the limited scope of the initial sale means limited availability. However, algae could become an important player should oil prices skyrocket. Right now you can find Propel biodeisels and E85 ethanol blends in 29 different gas stations across California. They eventually hope to offer their fuel in hundreds of stations across the Golden State. But will algae-based biodiesel ready for prime time should an oil crunch hit?

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle

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A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • “It can be run on any standard diesel-power car with no modifications.”

    B20 is not supported by Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, or Mercedes – which comprises the vast majority of diesel passenger vehicles in the US today. There is a long and complicated history, and it is unfortunately not as simple as saying it can run in any car. That being said, all major truck OEMs generally support B20 in the very newest vehicles.

    • Yup. It’ll work, but say goodbye to your warranty.

      • It does not “void your warranty”. Imagine going in to get your transmission fixed, and they said your warranty was void for having an aftermarket exhaust. There is a law called the Magnussen Voss (sp?) Act that prevents these kinds of blanket voiding of warranties. They could deny a claim if you have trouble with the fuel system, and they can show that the fuel is what caused the problem. Using B100 may cause problems in 2007+ vehicles that have DPF’s, as it can dilute the engine oil. Some people have had overfull oil, and/or check engine lights. Not quite as easy as it used to be. It’s important to be well educated on what you’re doing.

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  • Jason Carpp

    Now, if we can justs get our hands on a diesel car or truck, it might work. I’d prefer small cars like the Ford Ranger Diesel, or a Toyota diesel pickup truck. Or a VW Rabbit Diesel. I know they’re out there.

  • The EROEI or net energy must be horrible…. electrify your transport, drive a Volt…


    • Biodiesel’s EROEI depends on the feedstock and production methods. Just like spending $40 a gallon on renewable jet fuel sounds like a big waste of money on first hearing it, the fact is that it’s a trial. Solazyme is probably losing money selling the fuel through Propel – certainly if you consider the sunk R&D money. However, it’s important to get people comfortable with new products as they enter the market, as well as getting people excited. This is truly the first commercial scale algae fuel you can fill up with at a pump. It’s a landmark event, and I applaud them for it. I think it will be quite some time before production methods make it more sustainable than making biodiesel from used fryer oil, but you must have first generation biofuels before you have second generation biofuels. I look forward to continuous improvements in this area.

      On a related topic, the Volt is (obviously) powered by gasoline and electricity. I don’t need to comment on the gas side – other than to say gas engines still require tuneups, still use motor oil, and gas will go bad if you really only use a tank a year or whatever. On the electric side, how “green” it is depends on the region you live in, and the source of the electricity. From coal to natural gas to nuclear to hydro, it’s all over the map (literally!). While there is a good long term vision in electrifying transport, it will be with major tradeoffs and a seriously long term plan. Upgrading the grid, retrofitting power plants to clean their emissions, and signing a deal with the devil (using nuclear) is just part of the challenges on that side. So just like questioning biodiesel’s net benefit, the use of electric vehicles is no walk in the park.

  • Curly

    One may made a motor fuel from algae or from any other source of carbon. But it is still carbon and when it is burned in the engine it still produces CO2. So all that is happening here at most is extending crude oil for a little longer.

    • Jason Carpp

      People talk about reducing, or eliminating, exhaust emissions. Eliminating emissions, although it sounds like a good thing, seems totally unrealistic. When an engine runs, it burns energy, that energy has to go somewhere. That energy goes out the tailpipe. How can anyone eliminate the emissions that come out? Can you do that? No, I didn’t think so.

      • I guess what you guys aren’t getting is that the plants harvested to make the oil used for biodiesel are themselves carbon “sinks” – in other words, they ABSORB CO2. The reason some biofuels are considered carbon neutral is because the carbon coming out of the tailpipe is roughly equivalent to the carbon that went into the crops while growing.

        So it’s not about eliminating emissions, it’s about creating those emissions from a recently deceased organism, not millions of years old organisms (the source of so-called fossil fuels).

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  • Željko Serdar

    “The ongoing support from the private investment
    community speaks to how strongly they believe in the development of
    Green Crude as an alternative fuel resource, especially ability to
    commercialize it,” says Branka Kalle, President of Council CCRES

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