Just yesterday San Francisco saw the unveiling of the world’s first algae fuel-powered vehicle, dubbed the Algaeus. The plug-in hybrid car, which is a Prius tricked out with a nickel metal hydride battery and a plug, runs on green crude from Sapphire Energy — no modifications to the gasoline engine necessary. The set-up is so effective, according to FUEL producer Rebecca Harrell, that the Algaeus can run on approximately 25 gallons from coast to coast!

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“Powering our cars with algae-based fuel could be the next Apollo mission.” That’s what Rebecca Harrell, co-founder of the Veggie Van Organization and producer of the upcoming film FUEL, told me yesterday in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. Over the next 10 days she’ll be joined by Fuel director and Veggie Van Organization cofounder Josh Tickell as they take the Algaeus, along with a caravan of other green energy vehicles (including the Veggie Van and the biodiesel-powered big green energy bus), on a cross-country road trip. “It hit us that we needed to drive the car across the country,” Harrell said. “People think of algae fuel as this long-term, far off thing. But seeing is believing.”

And of course, the cross-country tour will also serve to promote FUEL, a film about America’s ongoing dependence on foreign oil. Unlike many environmentally-themed films that serve up upsetting bits of information without offering concrete solutions (An Inconvenient Truth, anyone?), FUEL discusses the ways that we can transition away from oil right now. “What’s important for everyday people is information. People don’t say ‘Can you give me something else to be scared about?’ They say, ‘How can I get my car to run on algae fuel?’, Tickell explained.

Green crude won’t be sold at your local gas station any time soon — Sapphire Energy is ramping up production of algae-based jet fuel this year, with plans to produce 2 million gallons of algae-based diesel fuel each year in the next two years–but eventually the company expects that green crude will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. And while the Algaeus only runs on a 5% blend of algae fuel, Harrell and Tickell hope that the vehicle can prove to consumers that green fuel solutions are on the horizon. “Up until now the environmental movement has been reactionary. We have no discourse about energy,” Tickell said.” And we want to shift that.”

FUEL will be released in New York City, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Washington DC on September 18th.


+ Sapphire Energy

All photos by Ariel Schwartz