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Transportation Earth Technology

First Algae Car Attempts To Cross the US On 25 Gallons of Fuel 188

Mike writes "San Francisco recently 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 cross the US on approximately 25 gallons of fuel — a figure which is currently being tested on a coast-to-coast road trip."
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First Algae Car Attempts To Cross the US On 25 Gallons of Fuel

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  • Fuel + Electric (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Cowar ( 1608865 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:22PM (#29399381)
    When they factor in or go without the gallons of oil, pounds of coal, cubic feet of natural gas, amount of uranium or other fissile fuel, wind turbine hours, and other electric generation measures, then I'll get excited. Until then the 25 gallons is a bit misleading, sort of like the volt's 240mpg. Either that or I'll forgo the above if you give me a dollar amount in electricity donated, borrowed, bought, or rented along the way.
    • Re:Fuel + Electric (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:39PM (#29399553) Homepage Journal
      I'd also add what their average speed is as well. You can get much better fuel economy in a prius if you only drive 25 mph than if you drive 65 mph due to the electric motor on board. Although, this is going to be the killer to their statement

      And while the Algaeus only runs on a 5% blend of algae fuel

      • 5% is nothing. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by WiiVault ( 1039946 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @03:16PM (#29400267)
        I ran a car with about 5% piss in the gas tank. Long story, but yeah 5% is nothing to brag about when it comes to fuel additives. When they can use a 15% blend and beat ethanol in efficiency (meaning MPG/KPH) then we will talk. Until then the algae has a long way to go.
        • Re:5% is nothing. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Normal Dan ( 1053064 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @04:24PM (#29400643)
          I want to hear the story.
          • by WiiVault ( 1039946 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @07:58PM (#29401799)
            Ok fair, you called me on it. Excuse this being a quick synopsis. Essentially I was in a situation where the car me and my friends were driving was close to reaching the point where the car inevitable "ran out" of gas. Sadly this was thanks to a poor design in the tank of this '76 Chevy beast. Actually there was almost 3/4ths of a gallon left but in the lower corner. We had in the past, as poor rednecks been in the same situation- every time we had turned to beer or liquor. Too bad us 17 year old dumb asses didn't have the assets this day. As such it became a straw pull and I got selected to be the "New Jersey Pumper"(I remind some folks that having someone pump your gas is bizarre to many of us). The car survived to the pump thankfully, though it was certainly one of the killers of that car. However, one good thing is that I have learned a lot about how to treat teens. Man I was a dumb ass back then.
      • Yes.

        Besides starting out with a fully-charged battery every morning (which is like 40 miles of "free" energy when the gas engine will be turned-off), the overall fuel economy is only ~100 miles per gallon. That really isn't impressive.

    • Re:Fuel + Electric (Score:5, Informative)

      by ZigiSamblak ( 745960 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:50PM (#29399639)
      The thing to get excited about here is not the efficiency of the fuel but that this is supposedly a "cradle to cradle" solution. By producing this fuel you are not taking away farmland to decrease possible food production but you are taking the CO2 out of the air to produce the fuel. []

      An algae farm could be located almost anywhere. It would not require converting cropland from food production to energy production. It could use sea water and could consume pollutants from sewage and power plants.
      • Re:Fuel + Electric (Score:5, Interesting)

        by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @02:16PM (#29399803) Journal

        An algae farm could be located almost anywhere. It would not require converting cropland from food production to energy production. It could use sea water and could consume pollutants from sewage and power plants.

        Has anybody suggested a nice oceanfront inland area with lots of rail and marine transport? One with storage and refinery capabilities? One that's already below sea level? Because I think there's a likely spot in Louisiana.

    • Re:Fuel + Electric (Score:5, Insightful)

      by C0deM0nkey ( 203681 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @02:27PM (#29399869)
      I think the thing to get excited about here is that this solution...along with any electric car in a step towards reducing and eliminating fossil fuels. Consider it a step towards consolidating our use of fossil fuels into specific distribution points on the electric grid. Say that it encourages the replacement of gasoline fueling stations with electric fueling stations. Say that it inspires advances in quick-charging battery cells for electric cars.

      What do we have then? We've still got fossil fuels being burned at key points on the electric grid *and* the emissions from those locations is very significant. But we've also gained better battery technology and fewer gas stations and (here's the big one) we are poised to replace those electrical nodes with cleaner alternatives.

      Part of the struggle moving from one technology to the next involves infrastructure replacement and consolidation of old resources. The Algaeus is just a tree in the overall forest. See the forest and then the Algaeus becomes pretty cool -- because it means we are trying *something* to move away from fossil fuels in our primary mode of transportation (at least in the US).
      • Re:Fuel + Electric (Score:5, Informative)

        by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @03:33PM (#29400381) Journal

        Then they should focus on the "it's electric!" sales pitch, rather than spread lies about getting 100 MPG and ignoring the costs at the user's electric meter. This is the same crap Chevy does with its Volt, claiming you get 60 MPG and "save money" but they never bother to mention the $50/month increase for charging the Volt's battery. Such false advertising should be illegal.

        • I agree. It would be great if they could focus on the "It's electric" pitch. Unfortunately, the very next complaint would be: "there's no where for me to plug-in" or "it takes too long to charge the battery...what's the point, I can only ever charge it when I'm at home."

          Its got to be about building interest in electric/hybrids instead. The way to do that is tell someone you are going to save them money at the pump because you are going to get them 100MPG.

          Right now, I spend about $120 a month on gas --
        • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @07:31PM (#29401679)

          Everyone with all these wonderful plans to get the "Happy Motoring" era happy again with 100+ MPG vehicles is conveniently forgetting that it will take a HUGE amount of money to convert the VAST fleet of current BFACs (big f'ing American cars) to anything resembling a 100+ MPG fleet of vehicles.

              This is money that we don't have. We have (you may recall) pissed away 3 trillion dollars on the PEW (permanent endles worthless war) so far and it's still at PEW status. We have bankrupted the middle-class on a bogus housing bubble to the point where half the houses built and sold in the past ten years are 'underwater'. We have maxed out our credit cards and destroyed the major banks to the point where they required two seperate 760 billion dollar 'bailouts' in a single year. We have no realistic health care system at a point where a 100 million people born between 1945 and 1970 are nearing retirement. Our totally corporately-owned corrupt government runs up a trillion dollars of deficit every fucking year. And the rest of the world is talking behind our backs about not continuing to buy our Ponzi Federal Reserve bonds.

              Not only are we out of money, we are out of money with 100 million stupid and obese self-entitled citizens. And all this is happening when we face Peak Oil and global warming environmental transformation. And when the number of $1 a day people in the 'never-to-be-developing' world are increasing their population from 4 to 8 billion in 30 years.

              There isn't going to be any great new 'Apollo' or 'Manhattan' project to deal with these problems. No one seems to realize this, ESPECIALLY here at Slashdot, but there is no more fucking money . Over the next ten years, critical systems for economic growth are continute to shut down, one by one. It's not going to be easy, or pretty, or fair. And as a member of the technological elite, it's going to really piss you off because you know that we could be doing so much, if only...

              Start thinking like this and stop thinking about giant government projects and Mars Landing and all that other 20th century fantasy and you will be around to play with your grandchildren. And please don't mod me down to -1 because my rational discussions bum you out. If I bother you, reply here as to exactly why I'm wrong. Believe me, I do want to be wrong about all this. But I have this bad feeling...

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            >>>We have no realistic health care system at a point where a 100 million people born between 1945 and 1970 are nearing retirement.

            What are you talking about? We have Medicare and Medicaid for these retirees so they will be covered by the government. We also have SCHIP for the children. In total there are only 8 million citizens without either private or government health insurancee. (Note I said citizens.) I wish people would stop exaggerating the health problem. It needs tweaking but it's

            • Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP programs don't have the funding to sustain their levels of service for the numbers of people who be entering these programs the next twenty years. There is not enough capital resources available to invest in new infrastructures for 100+ MPG vehicles and to support health care systems based on diminished-returns on investment. And the government will be trying to finance these programs at the same time that all the deficits that have been building up since the Reagan administr

      • Perhaps you would like to rebuild and exponentially expand the current electric grid while you are at it. If not, kiss your electric car dreams good bye.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      My question is, under the accounting they're using, why do they use any fuel at all? Why not go for the gold and say "we crossed the US without using any fuel at all!"?

      • Re:Fuel + Electric (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:23PM (#29401003)
        My question is, under the accounting they're using, why do they use any fuel at all? Why not go for the gold and say "we crossed the US without using any fuel at all!"?

        Because the snake oil they're pitching is algae. They had to add a meaningless amount of algae-based fuel to the gas tank in order to include the proper buzzword in their PR release. Not TOO much algae-fuel, or the car wouldn't work, of course.
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Only 5% of the fuel is from algae derived products - the other 95% is regular gasoline.

    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      "When they factor in or go without the gallons of oil, pounds of coal, cubic feet of natural gas, amount of uranium or other fissile fuel"

      Uranium is not a fossil fuel.

      "wind turbine hours"

      exactly - electricity can be generated from non carbon producing sources. (Including hydro, solar, tidal...

      I hear that our local power company has pulled out of the Big Stone II coal fired project. Since they were the lead investor in it I think thats a dead duck...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lymond01 ( 314120 )

      In most cases these days we are not striving to lower cradle to grave energy use. We are trying to reduce gasoline usage. If a car uses, effectively, twice as much energy to get from point A to point B, but uses solar or some renewable resource (even centralized electricity from hydro plants say), then it's better than gasoline.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:23PM (#29399387)

    ...if you rtfa..., guess a full algae-driven car isn't feasible yet.

    • by OnlyPostsWhilstDrunk ( 1605753 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:43PM (#29399569)
      Sure it is. Of course you'll have something the equivalent of diesel when you're done, not 87 octane gasoline. We can convert any plant matter into diesel pretty easily (just not on the large scale yet)
      • >We can convert any plant matter into diesel pretty easily (just not on the large scale yet)

        Biodiesel blends are readily available across the country. Typically it's a 15% Bio/85% Petrol blend to help prevent clouding problems in lower temperatures.

        So yeah, large scale production already in progress.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 12, 2009 @03:25PM (#29400325)

        Diesel engines were DESIGNED to run on plant matter...
        Peanut oil, to be precise.
        And the inventor was murdered while crossing from France to the U.K...
        So that the oil industry could use their dirty by product from petrol production, and re-name it 'diesel'. What we call 'diesel' nowadays is nothing of the sort.

        "In the evening of 29 September 1913, Diesel boarded the post office steamer Dresden in Antwerp on his way to a meeting of the Consolidated Diesel Manufacturing company in London. He took dinner on board the ship and then retired to his cabin at about 10 p.m., leaving word for him to be called the next morning at 6:15 a.m. He was never seen alive again. Ten days later, the crew of the Dutch boat "Coertsen" came upon the corpse of a man floating in the sea. The body was in such an advanced state of decomposition that they did not bring it aboard. Instead, the crew retrieved personal items (pill case, wallet, pocket knife, eyeglass case) from the clothing of the dead man, and returned the body to the sea. On the 13th of October these items were identified by Rudolf's son, Eugen Diesel, as belonging to his father.
        No one knows for sure how or why Diesel was lost overboard. Grosser (1978)[5] presents a credible case for suicide. There are conspiracy theories that suggest that various people's business interests may have provided motives for homicide. Evidence is limited for all explanations."

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Patch86 ( 1465427 )

        Diesel engines were original designed to run on biodiesel- its only a fact of history that the fossil industry discovered they could make a compatible fuel for cheaper.

        Biodiesel mass production is no great technological challenge (the method is pretty simple compared to crude oil refining). Now demand is growing fast, supply is growing fast- 40% growth annually before the recession.

        It should also be pointed out that diesel engines can be mechanically modified very easily to run on pure vegetable oil, withou

    • Um, yes it is, but the knuckleheads behind this decided they wanted to put it in a gasoline engine instead of a diesel engine.

      End result: They could only put 5% in the mix or it would cause engine problems (duh!)

      Why anybody would think this stunt helps their cause, or the cause of biodiesel, is beyond me. They should have just got a diesel car.

  • 5% Algae? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nemyst ( 1383049 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:25PM (#29399401) Homepage
    TFA says the car is running on a 5% mix Algae, with the rest being gasoline. What exactly does this prove, apart from being a marketing stunt?

    If anyone has better knowledge on what just 5% of this fuel can change to the overall MPG rating, I'd be glad to hear about it, but call me sceptical about the whole claim.
    • Re:5% Algae? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:34PM (#29399491) Homepage

      TFA says the car is running on a 5% mix Algae, with the rest being gasoline. What exactly does this prove, apart from being a marketing stunt?

      Easy answer - it's just a marketing stunt. As mentioned above, they don't include the oil / coal / etc. used to produce the electricity that will provide, oh, say, 99.9% of the motive power. And since of the .1% (and that's probably an over-estimate) of energy used to move the car that's in the form of liquid fuel only 5% is algae... the real questions are: 1) so what? and 2) who cares? If this stuff is so great, why can't you use it exclusively to go across the country? Or at least provide 50% of the energy?

        Even as marketing stunts go, this just completely sucks ass.

    • Well they are obviously pretty sure they can do it, or they wouldn't try.
    • Re:5% Algae? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:37PM (#29399519) Journal
      I'm really confused why they wouldn't use 100% Algae. Cost isn't an issue for a proof of concept, and its supposed to be a drop in replacement of gas. It should give similar MPG as regular gasoline, unlike ethanol that has a lower energy density.
    • Re:5% Algae? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by torkus ( 1133985 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:53PM (#29399655)

      Actually the rest is a mix of gasoline and coal (well, electricity derived from it).

      Show me some actual numbers of the (usable) energy density of this 5% alge and we can talk. Until then this is a car being driven as an electric-primary vehicle with diluted gas as a secondary source.

    • Did you look at the picture of the fuel? It was green wasn't it? Well?

      • I think this a joke, because we all know marketing people and some $1 food coloring could never create a nice "green bio friendly" photo op.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by joocemann ( 1273720 )

      I'm also a little ticked about it actually being only 5%...

      but a little silver lining to look at is that 5% of the CO2 emittied from combusted fuel is a net-zero in regards to anthropogenic CO2 production.


      I just can't wait for JC Venter's (SGI) new $50/barrel algae setup to revolutionize energy in the next decade. We're all gonna wish our cars were turbo diesels when his plants start pumping out affordable diesel with net-zero carbon.

    • ballpark is kick it up a 1/2 a percent, diesel is 11% more energy so that would be 5% of 11% real-world YMMV.

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:31PM (#29399453)

    ...of whale oil, since it's actually using gasoline, not whale oil, as its fuel. But, hey, whale oil is fuel, and I don't need more than two gallons of it, so my claim is exactly as well-founded as theirs.

    Plug-in hybrids are a great idea. But stop already with the stupid and misleading claims about "gas mileage" based on getting most of your energy from the grid.

  • MPG debate (Score:5, Informative)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:31PM (#29399461)
    Back to the MPG debate when dealing with electric/hybrid vehicles. Any time one take electricity from the grid, which this car does through the plug, that energy is not counted in the MPG. This makes MPG rating suspect at best. It also merely shifts the carbon load to the electricity plants rather then the vehicle causing the carbon footprint to be distorted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Which is why you should be looking at grams of CO2/km. You know how much energy the batteries can contain, you know how much energy the fuel tank can contain, making it very easy to do these calculation.

      CO2 isn't the only interesting pollutant though, but that doesn't make it any more difficult to figure out.

      Fill up entirely on solar or wind power, and your battery energy is pollutant free. And for those who then want to factor in the pollutants released in building those plants: You now have to factor in e

  • False Advertising (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 )
    I just noticed that the past paragraph states "Algaeus only runs on a 5% blend of algae fuel". Basically only 1.25 gallons of algae fuel will be used. The rest of the energy will come from conventional fossil fuels and the electrical grid. Not much of a big advancement.
  • It says no modifications to the gasoline engine necessary.

    It could just as easily be an Exxon Mobile car. Or a Chevron car.

    I guess the point is to try to draw attention to algae fuel extraction technology, but it's a bit misleading.
    • by Toonol ( 1057698 )
      No, it needs to be a hybrid. 99% of the fuel they're using to get across the country is in the form of electricity pulled from the grid. Which, of course, is primarily coal powered. If they were actually trying to drive somewhere using 25 gallons of algae gas, the car would die after 700 miles or so.

      This claim is about as revolutionary and ecological as my desktop pc; it's been running for years on NO gasoline. Didn't realize I was so green.
  • because this algae are neither the food of some lifeform, nor do they take giant amounts of space for production, for no reason.

    Would you please finally offer me energy from concentrating solar thermal power plants?

  • What do they mean? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by releaze ( 697041 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @02:11PM (#29399771)
    I don't know what they are saying in this article.
    They speak of 25 gallon to get from coast to coast. Coast to coast is about 3000 miles (google earth tells me).
    A regular 25 gallons of diesel would get you to about 750 miles?
    So i was thinking: yeah good deal!

    Then further on in the article they say that only 5% of the fuel is algae fuel.
    Then what do they mean with the 25 gallon thing? Is 25 gallon 5% of the entire fuel used to get from coast to coast? In that case, i guess you're far better off with running regular fuel :') Or is that 25 gallon just a number? (Just like that previous electric car add about some car driving 1/100)

    What did i miss?
    • A regular 25 gallons of diesel would get you to about 750 miles?

      Excuse me? That's 95l of Diesel for about 1200km.

      Even my 11 year old VW Golf IV TDI (1.9l engine w/ 90 metric HP/66kW) does 950km (590 miles) on *half* of those 95l/25gal and on a real everyday commuting mix, not some fake test course.

      And I'm not quite known for my defensive driving, so I like to go fast wherever and whenever possible. The same car and engine can be driven 1200km (750 miles) on a single tank of 55l (14.5gal) if driven fuel-op

  • by owlstead ( 636356 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @02:15PM (#29399797)

    Come on guys! A single look at the website shows that this is a marketing stunt. It seems to me that there are quite a few "green" sites that are completely misleading.

    Currently I am very suspicious of over-engineered websites like these. I remember the site of ThinFilm. Brilliant to look at, technically very interesting and technologically completely misleading (oh, the capacity that they could reach!). Now their main applications seem to be kids toys and RFID for which they are planning to use a few hundred bits.

  • by robocrop ( 830352 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:33PM (#29401931)
    The truly exciting thing here is that it's yet another 'green' innovation brought to you by the private free market. Just like the Prius itself, this was the result of a business listening to its customers and responding to a demand. It was not brought about by government mandate or fiat. People roll their eyes when you talk about the wonder of the free market, unaware of its massive and beneficial daily impact on their lives. This is why you have to fight to keep it.
    • If that is true then we must have a free market.
      That means that anything bad that happens is also the free market.

  • Two words:
    Rocky Mountains

    This might get 150 MPG in a lab but I've driven those mountains and unless a miracle happens, they're not getting anything close to their rated MPG going up them.

  • When it sounds too good to be true...

  • The BBC Top Gear team did a different experiment []: worth having a look.

    Having said that, there's no way my car will be any more economical than it is right now, regardsless of how gentle I drive - 4 wheel drive has its price. And at top speed is frankly gets embarrassing as that takes 5x as much fuel as a normal 70mph trip would - but I've only done that once out of curiosity :-)

  • First, it's a 5% blend of algae fuel. Big fuckin' deal.

    Second: it's a plugin hybrid. Crossing the US with a plugin hybrid is no big deal. Heck, if you belive the Chevy Volt's "230MPG" number, you should be able to cross the US with about 12 gallons of fuel, right? Hell, I can drive across the US on almost no fuel, if you let me re-charge the batteries every 150 miles in a motel along the road!

    I hate such gimmicks. Just tell the truth, dammit!

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky