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Algae-derived biodiesel hits San Francisco-area gas stations

By AutoWeek Nov 16, 2012 12:09PM

Environmentally conscious drivers may have a new way of fueling up: a diesel fuel blend that consists of 20 percent algae-derived biofuel and 80 percent regular diesel arrived at four gas stations in the San Francisco Bay area earlier this week.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the fuel retails for $4.25 per gallon—the same cost as conventional diesel in the region. B20 is billed as compatible with any diesel-powered vehicle.

As with any loudly trumpeted energy “breakthrough,” there are plenty of reasons to be both hopeful and intensely skeptical about the development. Peoria, Ill.-based Solazyme, the company responsible for the production of the B20 being sold to California consumers, has successfully run everything from a naval vessel to an airliner on its biofuel.

Yet there's no word on how B20 compares to conventional diesel performance-wise, or what impact higher biodiesel-petroleum ratios might have on regular diesel engines. Further, the algae used in Solazyme's fuels are grown in a lab-like environment, feeding on sugar in large, stainless-steel vats—an energy-intensive process in and of itself.

Still, there are other promising developments on the biodiesel front that may contribute to making renewable fuels economically viable down the road.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a method of quickly and efficiently converting algae into “biocrude” after a few minutes in a pressure cooker. As an added plus, algae used in that process can be grown in brackish ponds rather than the stainless-steel containers employed by Solazyme.

We're willing to watch the biofuel saga play out with guarded optimism. After all, there'd be something intensely satisfying about a carbon-neutral, renewably fueled and gratuitously smoky tractor pull. The B20 biofuel available in California represents a small, significant step in that direction.

-- Graham Kozak

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Nov 17, 2012 7:30AM
That is busted; modern clean diesel engines are not allowed to take more than 5% biodiesel, Volkswagen and Mercedes being prime examples.

Can modern clean diesel trucks handle B20?

This would be great news if manufacturers designed their diesel engines to run on any kind of diesel fuel. Ironically, Rudolf Diesel's original intent when designing his engine was to build one which would run on edible oil, or any other type of combustible liquid fuel.

Nov 16, 2012 2:07PM

This is great news.  Now if we only had vehicles in which to burn it!


I think it's rich that this fuel is being offered in a geographic area known to be full of the tree huggers responsible for the rules which all but outlaw diesels in California.


Ya gotta love it.

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