PHOTOS: Plug-In Hybrid Algae-Fuel Car Kicks off Road Trip

Algaeus, a plug-in hybrid car that will run on algae fuel for a cross-country road trip that kicks off today, is like a mash-up song composed of the hippest green technologies of the moment — plug-in cars and algae fuels. But does the combo make a danceable hit? Well, the team behind Algaeus says the car can get 150 MPG on the freeway, using a converted Prius, a nickel-metal hydride battery and a 5 percent algae fuel, (95 percent fossil fuel) blend courtesy of startup Sapphire Energy.


The green car mashup is more a way to show off the viability of algae fuel in an standard engine, however, and probably won’t be touted too much for deployment in commercial plug-in vehicles. The Algaeus started its 10-day cross-country journey in downtown San Francisco today in front of City Hall, and will end in Washington DC, to promote the new documentary movie Fuel.

Sapphire Energy’s CEO Jason Pyle explained to us at the event that the Algaeus road trip offers a way to show how “drop-in” fuels, or fuels where engines don’t have to be modified, are being developed in sustainable ways from sustainable products. Sapphire grows its algae in open ponds using salty or brackish water — the company has a site in New Mexico where it grows algae on degraded agriculture land.


Pyle says that the startup expects to produce 1 million gallons of algae-based jet fuel and 2 million gallons of algae-based diesel fuel annually over the next 2 years. Pyle also mentioned an even more aggressive goal for that time frame, saying Sapphire will be able to produce its fuel to be competitive with fossil fuels, somewhere around $60 to $80 per barrel. Competing algae fuel developer Solazyme predicts similar costs for its algae fuel in the next 2-3 years.

Of course while Sapphire says its algae fuel releases 70 percent less carbon emissions than fossil fuel, the Algaeus is only using a 5 percent blend, so will release considerably more carbon emissions than 100 percent algae fuel. But don’t expect algae blends to go much higher than the Algaeus fuel — Sapphire is shooting for a 10 percent blend for its first commercial products.