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Algae Biofuel Becomes Available to San Franciscans

Algae biofuel became available to San Franciscans for use as an alternative car fuel in November of this year. The fuel is (actually just) algae-based, meaning it is comprised of 20% algae and 80% petroleum. The official name for this fuel is Biodiesel B20, and it is available on a trial basis in the San Francisco area.

algae biofuel researchagrilifetoday / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What Is Algae Biofuel?

Algae Biofuel is an alternative fuel that can be used to fuel any diesel vehicle. Algae with high oil content is grown and then converted into a fuel. In the case of B20, it’s combined with petroleum. It is cleaner burning and the algae can actually absorb the carbon dioxide that has been released into the environment. The algae are grown by a company called Solazyme Inc. based out of San Francisco. They use a fermentation process to make the algae oil needed to make the fuel. Once the oil is ready, it is sent to a biodiesel plant to be converted into useable fuel. Currently, Biodiesel B20 is made up of 80 percent petroleum and only 20 percent algae but many diesel vehicles would run well with a higher concentration of algae in the fuel. The plan is to continue to increase the supply and the concentration of algae in the fuel as consumer demand increases.

How Does It Work?

Once the algae biofuel has been manufactured, you can fill up your tank just as you normally would. The price for Biodiesel B20 is slightly less than $4.25 a gallon, which is on par with regular diesel fuel. Some studies indicate that consumers will get better gas mileage using algae biofuel. Currently, the fuel is only available in Berkeley, Oakland, Redwood City and San Jose for a trial period. Interested consumers can fuel up at Propel Fuel stations. The hope is that the project will prove successful and many more stations will be built throughout California. Once the trial period is complete and the data has been analyzed, the government will decide whether or not to continue offering algae biofuel.

Is There a Downside?

There are a lot more advantages than disadvantages to using algae biofuel; it’s efficient and clean burning, and the algae used are a renewable resource that are relatively easy to produce with minimal environmental impact. One obvious downside is that algae biofuel is not yet readily available. In addition, the algae that have the best oil content for biofuel manufacturing can be a little tricky to grow. The water that the algae are grown in has to be kept at a consistent temperature and crop contamination is relatively easy. Another possible drawback down the road is that a biofuel with a higher algae concentration will be much more costly, making it difficult for consumers to afford. However, increased demand would lead to greater production and availability, which would eventually drive the cost down. So, if you happen to live in the San Francisco area and you drive a diesel car, look out for stations that offer Biodiesel B20. It’s definitely worth a try!

Tim works in the biotechnology field and contributes his knowledge to various green blogs. He also is a car enthusist and writes for auto sites such as Hertz car sales.

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