Gallery: OILGAE TEST DRIVE: Algae Power Hits the Road


Corn and soybean derived biofuels have long been the most promising options on the table for escaping the clutches of fast depleting petroleum. However, acquiring the space necessary to produce ethanol and biodiesel at the same consumption rate as fossil fuels would be impossible, so sustainable fingers are pointing to oilgae, or algae fuel. Algae produces 30 times more energy per acre than corn or soybeans and can grow in salt water, our worlds most abundant source. There are several startups bringing pond scum to fuel tanks, among them Solazyme who were caught driving around Sundance Film Festival this year with an oilgae-powered car.

US Biotech firm Solazyme unveiled an algae-fueled Mercedes C320 at the Sundance Film Festival in January marking the first real-world road test of biodiesel made from algae. Solazyme president and CTO Harrison Dillon said the Sundance test drive responds to “the need for a near-term solution that will also be cost effective and sustainable. Our technology combines all the key components: low carbon footprint, environmental sustainability, certified compatibility with existing vehicles and infrastructure, and energy security for our country,” in a press release. The company has since coupled with the Chevron Corporation and plan on producing algae-derived fuels for consumer use in the next three years.

Solazyme grows algae in fermentation tanks without sunlight, by feeding it sugar. Algae suitable for biofuels can be grown in open ponds or lakes or enclosed in heated greenhouse structures to promote year-long growth. And since the production of algae doesn’t hinder food and livestock feed production like corn and soybeans, its effect on the ecosystem and the food chain is significantly reduced.

But what’s a great idea without a catch? In open systems like natural ponds and lakes algae is susceptible to bacteria and contamination, and at the whim of the water and air temperature and access to light. In closed systems, algae grows in contained ponds or pools eliminating much of the risk of environmental variables, though requires more attention, equipment, and space. One of the commercial readiness hurdles is managing production at a feasible market price. Algae biofuels are still being researched and tested throughout the world and will someday (hopefully soon) offer us a cleaner way to get around.

+ Oilgae
+ Solazyme
+ Fields of Fuel from Sundance 2008
+ Power Your Car with Algae on Inhabitat


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  1. michel October 14, 2008 at 2:44 am

    I think algae biofuel will be great for the environment and the reduction of our dependence upon petroleum oil.

  2. NMCitizen September 15, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Inasmuch as you used a picture of a small algae pond with two guys sampling an algal culture, I would suggest you include the actual owners of that pond who have been raising algae for oil since 2006. That picture has appeared all over the internet, including a C-Net broadcast for LiveFuels, with no mention of who actually owns and operates the pond. It even appeared on the cover of a new book on making algae biodiesel at home. The pond is one of many that belongs to a small, very aggressive, no-nonsense company in SE New Mexico, who partners with New Mexico State University. Their combined efforts have resulted in what is arguably technology that is one to two years ahead of other organizations in raising and cultivating alage for oil. Their resume\’s and the innovations thay\’ve developed are most impressive. Their web site is Let\’s give credit where credit is due.

  3. Oilgae August 18, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for mentioning Oilgae!

    NS @

  4. Oilgae August 18, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Useful article. You can find a lot more about Oilgae from – where else – –

  5. greeentech April 17, 2008 at 11:54 am

    cpine is correct

    Ethanol based fuel solutions are counterproductive when corn or soy based. Ethanol derived from current food waste products, such as sugar cane husk or corn husk, etc. are much more viable because they would not adversely divert crops from food production nor advance clear cutting or additional farmland. All considered, it is probably O.K. for a short term solution to stretch existing petroleum stocks for vehicles that must run on gasoline. Jet fuel maybe?
    Bio-diesel and synthetic-diesel are much better choices however for the immediate future because a majority of the passenger cars, commercial trucks, construction equipment and military vehicles run on diesel and could run on bio/syn-diesel with no modifications (and run better and longer due to their superior lubrication over petroleum based diesel). Algae based diesel could be a big player if a plan could be executed that utilized 3 existing factors that are currently problems for us: 1. the extreme amount of runoff from farms going down the Mississippi river creates large growths of algae in the Gulf of Mexico on an annual basis 2. Large amounts of trash are dumped annually into the ocean because we don’t have enough landfills for the amount of trash we produce 3. The commercial fishing industry is in decline due to more dead zones reducing catches. Does anyone else see a possible solution through the use of open water algae farms. We could utilize the run off that creates dead zones in the gulf to help solve our energy needs and restore some fishing industries. Where does the trash come in? Certain algae love to eat our trash. You just have to find one that does makes a good bio diesel too! Yes, hurricanes would affect these farms, but hurricanes affect offshore rigs and facilities too.
    Offshore bio-diesel algae farms could be initiated with very little startup cost. Production would also help revitalize the gulf coast which already has the infrastructure in place for oil production and processing. As I recall, don’t they have a history of sugar production down there too? Cane based alcohol would be better than paying not to grow sugar (ref: tariffs and world sugar production). Seems like the U.S. has been paying attention to the wrong gulf region of this planet.

  6. cpine April 16, 2008 at 4:51 am

    I have been working with the Biodiesel Cooperative of Los Angeles since late 2005, and have been running my 2005 VW New Beetle TDI, 2005 Jeep Liberty CRD, and ’87 Mercedes 300TD wagon exclusively on B99 biodiesel that entire time. DO NOT CONFUSE ETHANOL (“moonshine”, “white lightnin'”) with BIODIESEL (derived from fatty oils, mainly from plants like soybeans, mustard seed, palm oil, waste cooking oil from restaurants, and about 115 other species of plants, but also animal fats). Rudolf Diesel invented his engine in the late 19th century, and perfected in the early 20th century, to run on peanut oil. So-called “diesel” fuel, derived from third level fractionation of petroleum, was a later invention of Standard Oil et al, after Diesel mysteriously died in transit across the English Channel, from France, on the eve of WWI. Biodiesel is derived from a much more energy efficient process than ethanol, and can be used DIRECTLY in diesel buses, trucks, trains and ships without having to modify the diesel engines. Over 40% of the passenger cars in Europe are more efficient diesel, and also has a more active biodiesel retail industry.
    The problems we all face with the rapid growth of the biofuels industry, driven by the multinationals like ADM and Cargill, is that they are willing to sacrifice large tracts of viable food farmland, rainforest and other habitat, releasing additional CO2 into the atmosphere with burnoffs, and heavy use of petroleum-based fertilizers, for the sake of short-term speculative profit. This is NOT sustainable. Our co-op and other affiliated organizations are involved in the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, to promote the development of so-called second-tier biofuels, such as Solazyme’s cellulosic sugar-based, intensive algae farming, which are far less dependent on food-based sources of oil and sugar, and much more energy-balanced. Google any of these names to get more info. Also check out the National Biodiesel Board website,

  7. brenna April 15, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Very interesting idea. There were some great articles in National Geographic a while back that were all about biofuels. I think there was something about algae, but I am not sure. There are definite problems with biofuels, but maybe this will be a great alternative!

  8. Scott April 15, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    According to wikipedia E85 is 85% combustible material (ethanol or gas).

    They claim that in FFV (flexible fuel vehicles) ethanol driven vehicles get a lower fuel mileage due to the chemical properties. Fact… “Ethanol has 27% less energy per litre than petrol.” … .
    The ethanol car relies on its ability to have a larger engine and higher fuel to air ratio for its power.

    The benefit as they claim is in the fact that it is possible to sell ethanol to you (the pumper) for cheaper. Although on a national level the price difference is not beneficial yet.

    As far as environmental benefits… quick story.
    The gasoline that we use to power cars got its hydrocarbons from the atmosphere or the food it ate at one point. It stored all of this underground over a much longer period of time than we are releasing it.
    The Ethanol that people put in their tanks works much the same way. A plant absorbs the CO2 that you and your car breathe out and then stores it as chemical energy using the sun to power that process and shedding off O2 (good for us). When you burn Ethanol, technically you are being carbon neutral since the CO2 was in the atmosphere to begin with and it will go back into a plant again so you can buy more E85. (the other by-product is water and the same can be said for you being water neutral!)

    Please argue with me I just learned everything I know about this from wikipedia as I was writing this 😉

  9. Samantha April 15, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    I\’ve always liked the thought of algae biofuel, I also remember reading somewhere that algae does more to offset CO2 emissions than trees. Could algae biofuel kill 2 birds with 1 stone?

  10. backfire April 15, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    E85 is 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline.

  11. dick nellis April 15, 2008 at 11:39 am

    This government web site shows the fuel economy for the 2008 vehicles. On page 23 (page 25 in the pdf file) it lists the expected fuel milage for vehicles using E85 fuel (85% gasoline and 15% ethanol), and the expected fuel milage for the same vehicles using gasoline without ethanol. Ethanol fuel has a range of 250 miles while gasoline has a range of 350 miles. Gasoline goes 1.40% farther than E85 fuel. It requires 1.19% MORE gasoline when mixed with Ethanol. How can Ethanol reduce polution with this much of an increase in consumption on a per mile bases?

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