As part of his campaign to promote alternative fuels (and his movie Fuel which addresses the subject) documentary film maker Josh Ticknell has just finished a ten-day drive from L.A. to New York in the world's only algae fueled plug-in hybrid vehicle. This modified Toyota Prius, called the Algaeus mobile, was created with the help of San Francisco based green energy startup Saphire Energy who also supplied the liquid fuel for the trip.
The Algaeus has been modified by adding a plug, an additional battery pack, what Saphire describes as an "advanced energy management system" and, most significantly, the internal combustion engine runs on liquid fuel derived from cultured algae. Produced at Saphire's New Mexico research facility, this fuel is said to be carbon neutral (thanks to the Co2 absorbed by the algae during growth) and is so chemically similar to petroleum-based gasoline that no modifications were necessary to the existing Prius engine (although some gasoline was mixed in to "raise the octane"). Mileage during the trip was 147 mpg city, where mostly electricity is used, and 52 mpg highway.
Ticknell first rose to prominence with his Veggie Van which runs on waste cooking oil from fast-food restaurants, but he is now promoting Algae-based bio-fuel technology which proponents say is superior to existing ethanol producing technologies because it requires no arable farm-land or potable water, produces 10 to 100 times as much fuel per acre, and can create a fuel so similar to oil-derived gasoline that no changes to existing infrastructure need be made.
Like-minded alternative fuel supporters, researchers, and startup companies such as Synthetic Genomics and Saphire are currently lobbying government to include legislative incentives for algae-fuel equal to those which are being given to plant derived ethanol production, but say that they are struggling against the vested interests of the crop producing states and their representatives.