September 23, 2009

Algae-fueled Prius Debuts After Cross-country Trek

WASHINGTON - The first car fueled with a mix of algae and gasoline arrive in the District on Thursday, completing a 10-day trek from San Francisco with a celebrity on board.

Algeaus, a 2008 Toyota Prius with an added battery pack and plug in technology, was driven by a couple promoting the debut of "Fuel", their indy film against American oil addiction.

'Heroes' actor Jason Kyson Lee brought the car to D.C. "Next month I'm actually going to be driving one of these."

NewsChannel 8 - Algae-fueled Prius Debuts After Cross-country Trek

The star says driving a plug-in Prius will allow him to save the world in his real life, not just on TV.

The couple who drove the Algeaus 3,500 miles across country say they're bringing the future of fuel into today's traffic. "The car, myself and Josh know no difference running on algae gasoline versus regular gasoline," said Rebecca Harrell, Veggie Can co-director.

Sapphire Energy produced a 5-percent algae-gasoline blend to power the cross country trek. The car's engine required no modification and the company's president says in a few years, cars may run entirely on algae.

"After you've refined it, it's exactly the same as the fuel we use today," said Cynthia Warner, Sapphire Energy president.

But homegrown algae can't be used. "This algae is very specialized. It's been developed specifically to create a high quality hydrocarbon fuel," said Warner.

Currently, Sapphire Energy is growing the green algae in New Mexico at a rate of 5,000 gallons per acre, per year. A barrel of algae would cost about $80, keeping it competitive with crude oil.

But the cost is not the only reason politicians are hitching a ride in the Algeaus. "Algae has the capability of powering our transportation sector without adding significant carbon dioxide to the atmosphere," said Rep. Jay Inslee.

Algae is the fastest growing plant in the world. When algae grows, the plant takes carbon dioxide out of the air and when it burns, it doesn't give off any of the heavy metals found in today's fuel.

Another positive about the alternative energy source - supporters say there's no food or fuel debate because algae requires less land and care than corn.

The process begins with water and algae. The company's president says the algae is grown in a pond with just sunlight and carbon dioxide to develop it. The plant produces oxygen, oil and the green stuff many are familiar with called biomass. After about seven days, Sapphire Energy harvests the mature algae, extracts the oil contained within the plant and leaves the biomass to be used as animal feed. The oil is then refined, ready to be used in car gas tanks.

To put the entire process in perspective, Sapphire Energy is one of about 60 companies looking into algae fuel. Investors have invested about $100 million in Sapphire alone.

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