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Green mile: Algae in the tankLiveFuels says it will be able to make biodiesel or synthetic gas from cheap algae in a few years. CNET's Michael Kanellos and Brian Cooley take a look at the process.
>> Yuck, this is fuel? >> Could be. Livefuel say they can turn algae into biodiesel. About an acre pond is good for about ten thousand gallons a year, they think. >> That's a lot. >> Yeah. It's going to take a couple of years, you know, it's a little bit in the experimental phase, but think they can pull it off. >> I want to see this. Let's go look. ^M00:00:17 [ Music ] ^M00:00:24 >> We were making the world's most natural oil, or as a friend of ours said, nature gives us crude oil; we're making cultured oil. >> And what really happens is, most of the petroleum in your gas tank was algae millions of years ago. Algae got deposited in organic materials, got heated by the earth's mantle. And now we're tapping it as petroleum. So we're tapping ancient sunlight. And what we're now trying to do is to stop tapping the oil carbon that we sequestered and grow it outside. And it will make vegetable oil, which will flow to the surface of the pond, and then you have a spill over tank. And it falls in there, and boom you keep using present day carbon, make it a nice neutral cycle. What you're seeing here is what most algae companies are doing, which is working with strains to find out what do the algae like, what do they need, what can we grow. But the trouble is, this is a very low margin product. We have to make this stuff for about a dollar a gallon. And that means we got to grow it outside because you can't build labs big enough, and cheaply enough. >> Right. >> To make algae oil that cheaply. >> [Inaudible] you take this; let's say you made petroleum out of algae. You would put it in a car, it would still give off CO2 and things like that and certain pollutants, but it's carbon neutral because then your next crop of algae would be sucking that CO2 out of the atmosphere. >> Bingo. And it- - >> And you're [inaudible]. >> Can, if we don't use all of the algae body. If we don't completely cause it to become a fuel, you still got that little algae body, which has some carbon in it, and where ever it goes, whether it's into the soil or other, you have put some CO2 down. >> Are you talking to oil companies right now at all? >> You betcha. >> Okay. >> Yeah. >> Any partnerships in the inkling or they're more interesting in the science of? >> Oh, most of them have something... >> Right. >> Of a wait and see attitude. This is a tough nut for the petroleum companies because, you know, it kind of cannibalizes their business. >> Right. >> And they desperately need oil, but there's nobody who look like they can generate a billion barrels, and then if it's under a billion barrels. Petroleum companies are like why are you bothering me. >> Do you genetically manipulate any of the algae, or do you think that's going to be part of the future in the business? >> We certainly will do some genetically manipulation, Ideally, what you do is you start with native strains, and you do some genetic work on them, so that you can clearly understand the pathways that are triggered when you get oils. And then you do what's known as directed evolution. Which is okay, we know what we are aiming for. We'll just do hybrid breeding. And the goal here is to evolve over the next four years to one hundred million gallons by 2010.