6HWbNHN-show-poster2x3-c7tgE2Y.png

Artbound

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Biofuel from Algae Hits California Pumps

Support Provided By
algae-11-19-12-thumb-600x401-40687

When they say "green fuels", they mean "green fuels." | Photo: Texas A&M Agri Life/Flickr/Creative Commons License

As of last week, a few select service stations in Northern California are offering their customers a chance to fill up on biodiesel made from algae -- but some scientists are warning that the fuel may have too high an environmental cost.

In a month-long pilot project, PropelFuels and Solazyme are selling Solazyme's Soladiesel®BD, a form of biodiesel derived from algae rather than from oil crops or agricultural waste, as is the case with most currently available biodiesel. The new fuel is being sold through Propel's network of renewable fuel services stations, with the test limited to four locations in Berkeley, Oakland, Redwood City, and San Jose.

Solazyme's fuel is derived from algae grown in tanks, fed on sugars that prompt the algae to synthesize oils which are then turned into biodiesel. According to the Redwood-City-based Solazyme, the resulting fuel outperforms ultra-low sulfur diesel in tailpipe emissions of total hydrocarbons (THC), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter.

But according to a National Academy of Sciences report released in October, "Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States", algal fuels don't necessarily come without a significant cost. The report's authors say that it can take up to 3,600 gallons of water to create each gallon of algal biodiesel, depending on the procedure used. Providing a source of nutrients for the algae that doen't decrease the net energy output can also be a problem, say the report's authors.

However, as the authors of the report point out,

[N]one of the sustainability concerns is a definitive barrier to the development of algal biofuel as a fuel alternative. Biological and engineering innovations have the potential to mitigate the resource demands associated with algal biofuel.

Chief among these possible innovations are developing algal strains that can tolerate saltwater or brackish water, and developing ways of using urban wastewater to both irrigate and fertilize the algae. Your toilet and your car may yet be joined in a great Fuel Cycle of Life.

ReWire is dedicated to covering renewable energy in California. Keep in touch by liking us on Facebook, and help shape our editorial direction by taking this quick survey here.

Support Provided By
Read More
Close up of a new parent's hand holding a baby's hand.

Partly Due to COVID-19, L.A. City Council Gives City Employees Paid Parental Leave

The Los Angeles City Council today unanimously approved an ordinance to provide paid parental leave to all civilian city employees, though it's not a permanent change.
A dollar bill

¿Quién recibirá un cheque de estímulo de California? ¿Cuándo?

California enviará aproximadamente 5.7 millones de pagos del estímulo Golden State de $600 a los residentes que luchan por mantenerse a flote durante la pandemia. Para la mayoría de los destinatarios, el dinero podría llegar tan pronto como un mes.
A dollar bill

Who Gets a California Stimulus Check? When?

California will send out roughly 5.7 million Golden State Stimulus payments of $600 to residents struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. For most recipients, the money could come in as soon as a month.