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The Algaeus algae-fueled Prius hits the road

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Algaeus, which claims to be the first algae-powered vehicle, should be hitting Detroit today and is two thirds of the way through a 10-day jaunt from San Francisco to New York.

Algaeus, which claims to be the first algae-powered vehicle, should be hitting Detroit today and is two thirds of the way through a 10-day jaunt from San Francisco to New York.

Algaeus is a 2008 Toyota Prius which has an engine that is the same four-banger that comes in any Prius. However, it has an added battery pack and a few others tweaks to makes it get 150 miles to the gallon. Sapphire Energy which bills itself as a refiner of renewable gasoline (91 octane at that), diesel and jet fuel based on algae and the Veggie Van Organization (VVO) are Algaeus sponsors.

Algaeus hits Detroit today.

Interest in algae is rising because it uses no water and food crops in the growing/refining process and is a "drop-in" replacement for petroleum products. It's getting the attention of some very large and deep-pocketed companies, not just ecologically-minded startups and organizations.

Over the summer, Exxon Mobil, long an alternative fuels curmudgeon, committed $600 million to algae research. A company named Algenol working with Dow Chemical and the Dept. of Energy are building 3,000 algae bioreactors on the Texas coast near Houston. Boeing and Airbus have extensive algae research programs.

Working on algae fuels are an interesting mix of big companies and start-ups like Sapphire and Joule Technology which I wrote about a few weeks ago. They make for strange bedfellows. Sapphire and the VVO have cast Algaeus as "eco-aggressive," a term that I doubt you would see used in the same sentence as Exxon-Mobil.

Eventually, smaller companies with worthwhile technologies will get gobbled up by the bigger ones once algae  evolves and proves itself on the fuel front. Or the algae's fortunes could ride on the ever-swinging price of oil as has ethanol's.

Meanwhile, Algaeus makes its way across the country trying to gain support for the idea of algae-based fuels and on Friday is scheduled to make what it hopes will be a triumphal entrance in New York.

The vehicle got considerable amounts of press attention when it left San Francisco on Sept. 9, but according to a search of both Motor City newspapers, Algaeus' presence in Detroit has yet to get a mention. Maybe, it would have gotten more notice if the car was an Escalade instead of a Prius.  Exxon Mobile would have liked that, but an Escalade isn't exactly "eco-aggressive."

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure