By on May 22, 2010

The conversion of vegetables into car fuel continues. In Japan, the Agriculture Ministry teams up with Toyota, Denso, the Chuo university in Tokyo, the Kyoto university and others with the goal of producing fuel from produce. From algae, to be exact. Are algae food? In certain parts of the world, they are. As I’m in Tokyo, dried algae are in the snack tray next to the computer, and they begin to infest the keyboard. The green stuff that wraps sushi is dried and pressed algae.

So far, edible algae are safe from ending up in your tank. The Japanese group hopes to extract oil from the usually uneaten Pseudochoricystis algae and turn it into car and jet fuel within 10 years. If successful, algae-based bio-fuel could meet 10-20 percent of Japan’s demand for refined crude, writes The Nikkei [sub]. For years, the process had been registered as a patent by Denso. The green stuff  reduces the carbon footprint in two ways. One by reducing the amount of oil. Two by munching on CO2 emissions from factories or power plants. The CO2 is introduced into water, the algae feed on it. Add some sun, and voila, gobs of algae.

Meanwhile in France, Michelin uses sunflower oil to produce their Primacy MXM4 tire, reports Tire Review. The patented “Helio Compound” incorporates sunflower oil in order to offer improved handling in both wet and snowy weather.

Using greens for cars is as old as the hemp car that was developed by Henry Ford in the 1930s. It had plastic bodywork made with hemp and used hemp oil as fuel. Would it have been successful, then “smoking the other guy” would have taken on a whole other meaning.

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13 Comments on “Yummy: Algae In Your Tank, Cooking Oil In Your Tires...”


  • avatar

    If Henry had made a Mushroom car we’d be free of the auto sucubus.

  • avatar
    benders

    Sardine oil is also a component of tires.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    The use of sunflower oil as an additive in tire compounds is interesting, but the average chemist or engineer laughs at the idea of renewable energy making any kind of impact. Growing algae, or better yet, bacteria to manufacture substitute fuels would require tanks with a volume several times the volume of Lake Michigan, just for U.S. consumption. Spain made a major effort to create a “green” economy, and even the pro-green government there has admitted it’s a huge failure. We’ll have to keep drilling for the foreseeable future.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re missing the point Lorenzo. The idea is not to REPLACE petroleum, but to EXTEND it. Every gallon of alternative fuels produced now and in the future extends the useful utility and availability of petroleum-sourced fuels. Sure, there are environmental benefits in terms of carbon emission reductions, but really they can never fully replace petroleum. We all know this and do not argue that we’ll need to keep drilling.

      What alternative fuels buy us is time.

      More time to use petroleum, and more time to develop the eventual replacement of petroleum, which is a finite resource.

      So please do not dismiss this sort of research or call it a failure, unless you have a better idea for solving this problem of extending a finite resource. Otherwise you’re part of the problem, not the solution.

    • 0 avatar
      jacque

      If that were true then why are all of the major oil companies investing in these algae compies and why is Cargil and Dow doing so much research in this field. Do a little research yourself. Algae can produce over 600 times more oil per acre than corn or soybeans. Plus it does not have to grow in horizontal fields so someone could build towers of algae farms and take up less acreage.

  • avatar
    dzwax

    An algae farm the size of Lake Michigan would be a pretty small farm compared to the millions of acres devoted to cattle feed.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    http://www.consumerenergyreport.com/2010/05/10/some-random-notes-of-algal-fuels/
    “Some Random Notes of Algal Fuels” by Robert Rapier*:

    “My conclusion is that with the possible exception of the fermentation approaches, the issues that caused NREL to abandon algae in the mid 1990’s are still pressing issues today. I see very little likelihood that companies basing their plans on either open pond systems or photobioreactors can be successful without heavy, perpetual doses of government funding.

    “Algae is still a lab project for the most part, and companies that have moved to commercialize it presently have little chance of economic viability. However, having said that, I think there are some niches in which it might eventually work, and I do favor spending research money in the hopes that in 10 or 15 years, commercialization is a realistic goal.”

    *Robert Rapier earned a Master’s in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University, and is the Chief Technology Officer for Merica International, a bioenergy holding company. Previously, he was the Engineering Director for Accsys Technologies. He blogs at R -Squared Energy Blog.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Chuck has expressed my exact sentiments.

    Folks who look at alternative fuels as a ‘competing’ energy source or an ‘oil substitute’ are completely missing the point.

    The purpose of using any energy source is to find what we would call ‘balance’. Some folks weigh the economics of energy use a bit more. Others are concerned about the environmental issues. Then you have the sustainability issues that Chuck has mentioned.

    They all feed into each other and there really is no clear-cut answer to all of it. Now the virtues of using a concentrated energy source to assassinate a few tinpot dictators in Iran, North Korea, Gaza and Syria would probably lighten things up a bit. Then you can toss in Mugabe, the shmuck from Mynamar, and the Bin Laden clan. Oh, and don’t forget the current Nigerian regime and well… I never really liked those fellows in Sudan or South Africa.

    On second thought I think we should keep at it until oil becomes a ‘secondary’ fuel source. I already have two hybrids and Chuck’s got his diesel. Who’s with us!

    (crickets crickets crickets)

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      I don’t think finding an oil substitute is missing the point at all, after all, that is the ultimate goal. Just as those who think NASA is a waste of money have their heads stuck firmly up their asses so do those who think that alternative fuels are a waste of research dollars. It takes time and a lot of money to make major breakthroughs, but the USA invented and developed manned flight to the moon, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, the affordable car for all, the internet, and pretty much everything that makes modern civilization modern. It’s up to us to find a way to find not just a temporary stop-gap, but a solution to our need for dino-oil.

      As far as your assassination list goes, while I am all for the complete destruction of the current regime in Iran (or perhaps all of Iran in general), and a much more western-friendly set up in Saudi Arabia, I don’t think the North Koreans, Bin Laden, Nigeria, or anyone in Gaza has much to claim vis a vis oil reserves. Not that profound action couldn’t help the middle east, after all, if we went all Afghanistan style on the Palestinians we could send the pretty clear message that anyone messing with Israel faces the full fury of the US military, but that is another arguments for likely another forum.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I’m sure the social engineering crowd doesn’t approve, but whatever helps drive the cost of fuel down even further gets my blessing (and tax dollars if required).

  • avatar

    Steven Lang
    May 22nd, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    (crickets crickets crickets)

    -

    Does Propane count? I run one car on Propane and am mulling converting my diesel to straight vegetable oil, but I’m still gathering data on how much used oil I can collect in one week from the local kitchens.

    -

    That said, one big problem about the alternative energy movement is the waste of energy on researching dead-end alternatives. But then again, much more is wasted on more frivolous endeavors, so that’s a minor complaint.

  • avatar

    I’ve been taking algae … it supposedly increases oxygen flow to your brain, enhances your memory, etc. So far, all it’s done is activate my gag reflexes.

    There is another interesting fuel alternative: cow fat! http://bit.ly/a7xvL9


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