If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good documentary can change your vocabulary.
Josh Tickell’s new film, Fields of Fuel, has just won the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The film, which opened last Monday to a standing ovation, is a sharp, compelling look at biofuels and the history of America’s dependence on foreign oil. From home-made biodiesel to OPEC corruption, it covers the myriad reasons why we should be changing our fuel to change our lives.
Tickell, the man who essentially introduced the world to biodiesel, has brought us an outstanding contribution to the discourse on biofuels: Fields of Fuel says in ninety minutes what we’ve all been trying to sum up for years. Here’s the trailer:
Last week I was interviewed by Timber Talk, a forestry radio station in Arkansas, which coincidentally took place at the North American International Auto show in Detroit, Michigan. Timber Talk approached me last fall after reading a post on VegTruck.com that dealt with using straight vegetable oil as a fuel source.
Fun fact: Timber Talk radio covers a population of 2,400,000 in three states.
We spoke for about 30 minutes on a range of topics, including the new renewable fuel standard, cellulosic ethanol and GM’s announcement, algae biodiesel, vegetable oil as a fuel, and so on.
Listen to the show here.
Note: See the precursor to this post, BREAKING NEWS: First Cars Run on Algae Biodiesel; Breakthrough Production Possible.
Today I had a few minutes to speak with Harrison Dillon, President and CTO of Solazyme. But with all the publicity around the film Fields of Fuel (see earlier post), I didn’t have much of a chance to get into a detailed discussion. When I approached him, Harrison was surrounded by a group intent on elucidating the not-so-subtle points of using biodiesel (such as, does it require conversion to run in a diesel engine?).
In our brief conversation I was able to learn that Solazyme is going to combine cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel production technology, which they think provides a more positive energy balance than either one alone (Harrison said that algae are 1000 times more efficient when fed sugar vs. grown by sunlight). Solazyme will be buying sugar, including cellulosically-derived sugar produced by cellulosic ethanol companies, to feed to their algae. They’re basically short-circuiting the cellulosic ethanol process and diverting the sugar to what they say is a more efficient process: growing micro-algae.
It’s been a big week for biofuel breakthroughs and new partnerships. While photographing the algae biodiesel cars outside Fields of Fuel yesterday, insiders I spoke with alluded to big news: I just learned that Chevron will be backing Solazyme to produce algae biodiesel (East Bay Business Times):
Chevron Corp. is accelerating its research into biofuel derived from algae. On Tuesday, Solazyme Inc. of South San Francisco announced an agreement with the Chevron subsidiary Chevron Technology Ventures to develop and test biodiesel feedstock made from algae.
The partnership will almost certainly rev up Solazyme’s production and research process, as will GM’s backing of Coskata ethanol. But I still have no information on how the algae will be grown. I’m getting the sense that this is almost cellulosic + algae = biodiesel, since these guys are talking about getting sugar from corn stover, switchgrass, wood chips, and sugarcane, then feeding it to algae to boost production. Take a look at this video from the film:
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?