It sounds far-fetched: Running your car on algae, the same gunk that accumulates on standing water and looks like wet, green hair. Instead of a gas station, would you fill up at a swamp? Would worried drivers see that their fuel gauge was running low and say, “Gee, I hope there’s a good-sized bog coming up soon?”
As strange as it sounds, algae may turn out to be one of the better alternative-fuel options coming our way in the next five years, and one California biotech company is pretty much betting the farm on it (or the algae field, rather).
That company is Solazyme, which sent a diesel Mercedes to Park City, Utah, where a driver tooled around the Sundance Film Festival running the car exclusively on biodiesel fuel cultivated from algae oil. Solazyme did so first of all to promote the film “Fields of Fuel,” and second to demonstrate that its so-called Soladiesel, developed from algae, can be used in any diesel engine on the road.
The kicker is that aside from being a renewable fuel that doesn’t require innovations in engine technology, Solazyme envisions massive fields of algae mass-producing Soladiesel. These fields would suck up carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen, thus doing double-duty for the environment.
Solazyme still has a ways to go, however, and its claim of having the process ready in the next three years seems optimistic. Algae oil will need to be cheap and easy to produce on a massive scale before it’s viable for consumers. Solazyme’s recent partnership with Chevron Corp. is a solid step in the right direction. Hopefully, the energy giant can use its resources and infrastructure to help Solazyme commercialize its innovation. We’d also need more diesel cars on U.S. roads to really take advantage of it.