To the list of things that started in the Bay Area (blue jeans, Sourdough French Bread, fortune cookies) you can now add automobile fuel made by algae.
On Tuesday, four service stations in Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley and Redwood City became the first in the world to pump the fuel, which is blended with conventional diesel in a 20% concentration.
We were excited when we heard the news. It’s great to be first, after all. But we also wondered why anyone would want fuel made from algae.
The fuel has a couple of advantages, said Robert Ames, a vice president at Solazyme, the South San Francisco company that makes it.
When burned, the fuel gives off 30 percent less particulate matter, 20 percent less carbon monoxide and 10 percent less hydrocarbons than ultra-low sulfur conventional diesel, he said.
That sounds pretty good, but there are other types of biodiesel. Enterprising chemists have concocted biodiesel from soybeans, canola and recycled cooking oil, among other sources, and some of these are already for sale in the Bay Area. So we asked Ames how these compare with the algae fuel.