September 23, 2009

All About the Algae: 'Fuel'

Fuel courtesy Greenlight Theatrical

JOSH TICKELL IS an environmental activist who works on many levels at the same time. The Louisiana-raised author and speaker's dozen-year peripatetic promotion of biofuels is captured in his convincing new documentary "Fuel," an extremely wide-ranging biopic, in-depth history of oil and inspiring forward-looking thriller ripe with intriguing new ideas.

We spoke with Tickell, pictured holding biodiesel fuel, and his wife, "Fuel" producer Rebecca Harrell, as they crossed the country in the Algaeus — a car running on biofuel derived from algae — raising awareness of their documentary. They'll join Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) on Thursday at a noon press conference on Capitol Hill.

» EXPRESS: "Fuel" points out the little-known fact that Hurricane Katrina caused horrible oil spills.
» TICKELL When the tanks ruptured and the oil seeped out, it didn't just seep out into the land surrounding it, it actually spilled into the entire lower Mississippi basin. The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons. This was a nine-million-gallon spill and it went virtually unreported.

» EXPRESS: Who were you most excited to interview for "Fuel"?
» HARRELL: The first was Sen. Lautenberg, D-N.J. We greatly respect him. Another was Robert Kennedy Jr. We drove to the Kennedy compound and waited and waited and finally he let us in. What we thought was going to be 15 minutes turned into an afternoon. And Josh and I were in tears — what he said was so inspiring and honest. It looked at that it is to be American and what it is to be patriotic. The last person who was really notable to me was [British industrialist] Richard Branson. He's been a completely unexpected champion of the movie.

» EXPRESS: How is fuel made from algae?
» TICKELL People think gas came from dinosaurs, but the reality is that all oil on Earth came from single-cell photosynthetic organisms — phytoplankton and algae. Algae took carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and put oxygen into the air and then became sequestered in the Earth's crust. That's what we're burning in our gas tanks — 150-million-year-old algae.[Algae-based biofuel] takes that process and squeezes it so that it takes place in less than a couple of weeks. Algae are the fastest replicating life-forms on Earth. They are also the most efficient photosynthetic organism: From the sunlight that falls upon them to the creation of oil — they produce it at a rate that is unequaled.

» EXPRESS: Is it true that recycling takes as much energy as producing new goods?
» TICKELL There is far more energy used in producing new products. Also, things like high-tech recycling, hybrid cars — these are cutting-edge technologies and they will not succeed unless we use them. They are works in progress. They are steps along the pathway to a sustainable society. If we do not take the steps, we will not get to the destination. Hope is derived from doing something.

» Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; opens Fri., 202-452-7672, (Metro Center)

Written by Express contributor Tim Follos
Photo courtesy Greenlight Theatrical

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