While some people may scoff at the notion of using seaweed and pond scum to power our vehicles, the potential for algae to replace petroleum as a sustainable fuel source is there. Last week four San Francisco Bay-area gas stations began selling a biodiesel blend of 20% algae-sourced fuel at market rates.
The B20 biodiesel fuel comes from Propel Fuels, with 20% of the diesel sourced from sustainable algae. The price of $4.25 a gallon is on par with regular diesel fuels, and will soon go on sale at four gas stations around the Bay area. It can be run on any standard diesel-power car with no modifications.
The algae fuel is better for the environment both at the production and emissions level. Algae grows on a steady diet of CO2 and sunlight, therefore absorbing some of the carbon dioxide it puts back into the air. The fuel itself also emits 30% less particulates, 20% less carbon monoxide, and 10% fewer hydrocarbons.
While an important step, the limited scope of the initial sale means limited availability. However, algae could become an important player should oil prices skyrocket. Right now you can find Propel biodeisels and E85 ethanol blends in 29 different gas stations across California. They eventually hope to offer their fuel in hundreds of stations across the Golden State. But will algae-based biodiesel ready for prime time should an oil crunch hit?