Algae Tomorrow’s BioDiesel Fuel Source

Updated Jun 30, 2015

Two-year test by Volkswagen shows promise of algae and plant sugar as a replacement for petroleum-based diesel

Volkswagen of America, Inc. has opened the renewable fuels door wider now that its two-year Renewable Diesel Evaluation Program in collaboration with Solazyme, Inc. and Amyris, Inc., two of the world’s leaders in renewable fuels and products, has been been sucesfully completed.

Biodiesel research continues advancing using algae as a replacement for crude-based fuel source. (Photo Courtesy Sandia National Laboratories)Biodiesel research continues advancing using algae as a replacement for crude-based fuel source.  (Photo Courtesy Sandia National Laboratories)

What this collaborative effort shows is future commercial diesel fuel could be algae green.

During the two-year evaluation, Solazyme’s, now commercial, Soladiesel RD® (100-percent algae-derived renewable diesel fuel) and the Amyris plant-sugar derived renewable diesel formula was used for the program with each company testing a 2012 Passat TDI and Jetta TDI models.

Beginning in 2012, Volkswagen measured the environmental impacts from the use of pre-commercial renewable diesel formulas with TDI® Clean Diesel technology found in the 2012 Passat TDI (which uses a NOx storage system) and 2012 Jetta TDI (SCR system).

Initial analysis found that advanced renewable fuels in the test offered comparable performance to standard crude-based diesel fuel blends while producing less CO2 emissions on average.

Both fuel producers added additives, which are commonly used today, to meet ASTM D 975 specifications.

With more than 134,000 miles logged collectively in real-world, on-road and on-highway conditions, Volkswagen engineers found that every vehicle in the evaluation offered similar performance to existing TDI powertrains operating on today’s crude-based clean diesel fuels.

While powered by the two fuel formulas, results from the evaluation found that driving dynamics were not negatively impacted while fuel economy was similar or improved.

In addition to comparable performance, both producers claim that greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) could be reduced by more than 50 percent on a well-to-wheel basis when using renewable fuels as compared to today’s commercially available crude-based fuels.

“The successful completion of this collaboration with two leaders in renewable fuels and products highlights how far advanced fuel technology has come in recent years, proving that sustainable fuels are not only produced in more environmentally friendly ways, but can offer similar performance and lower emissions from a well-to-wheel perspective when compared with commercially available crude-based fuels,” said Ewald Goessmann, executive director, Volkswagen Group of America, Electronics Research Laboratory.

“Evaluations like this are part of Volkswagen’s broader holistic environmental strategy which underscores the company’s commitment to the environment by deploying a comprehensive approach which addresses carbon reduction and sustainability at each part of the vehicle lifecycle.”

These key indicators highlight the tremendous market potential that renewable fuel solutions offer, combining comparable performance and fuel economy, helping reduce emissions, while utilizing more sustainable methods to produce the products.

During the evaluation period, no engine errors were triggered as a result of the fuel and no extreme wear or failures were reported that would prevent any of the vehicles tested from being operated normally while powered with the respective renewable formulas.

Additionally, engineers found that during the evaluation period there were no negative effects in the burning of the renewable fuels, while the production of soot was lower than when using conventional diesel.