Algae Grown Bio-Fuel Gets Mazda Backing

Mazda is pinning much of its green energy hopes on bio-fuels grown from algae.

The Japanese carmaker has announced joint research projects and studies into the future use of microalgae grown fuels as part of its Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030 long-term technology development program where it commits to reducing its average ‘Well-to-Wheel’ CO2 emissions to 50% of 2010 levels by 2030 and to 90% by 2050.

Far from some organizations’ foresight that existing ICE powertrains have a shortened shelf life against increasing electrification, Mazda expects its ICE offerings will still account for around 95% of the vehicles it produces in 2030, and that liquid fuel will remain dominant in the automotive industry until at least 2040. It says a renewable liquid fuel is essential in CO2 reduction because, when employed in an ICE powertrain, algae biofuel only releases CO2 recently removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis as the algae grows.

Mazda considers its development to be critical to achieving the carbon-neutrality of cars powered by a mix of ICE and hybrid electric systems. Exponents of the technology claim microalgae biofuel can be farmed on land unsuitable for agriculture, can be grown with minimal impact on freshwater resources, can be produced using saline and wastewater, have a high flash point, and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled.

The United States Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all petroleum fuel in the USA, its growth would require an area equivalent to just 0.42% of the American land mass: less than one seventh of the area of corn harvest in the USA in the year 2000.

With this in mind, Mazda is lending research-accelerating technical support to both research into genome editing by Hiroshima University and the study of plant physiology by the Tokyo Institute of Technology, which is intended to lead to a breakthrough in these areas.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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