Enterprise Rent-A-Car Sees Algae as Source of Tomorrow's Biofuels

By Editors on August 29, 2008 12:18 PM

The future of fuels may well be a byproduct of green slime. At least that what the world's largest car-rental company thinks. Already engaged in a variety of programs to develop and promote environmental causes and the use of renewable fuels, Enterprise Rent-A-Car has just upped its commitment to exploiting this lowly plant form by tabbing one of the world's leading biofuel researchers, Dr Richard Sayne, to be the first director of its Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Sayne, a Fulbright Scholar and formerly professor in the Department of Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology at Ohio State University, will lead a 10-person team that will focus on finding new ways to transform algae into a "third-generation" biofuel that can cheaply and efficiently cut our dependence on petroleum-based alternatives and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Sayne, who's been working with engineered algae structures for over 15 years, there are several reasons why oil derived from this simple organism offers such outstanding possibilities. For openers, it's not used as a food source and therefore doesn't have the kind of direct -- or indirect -- economic impact that other types of base stocks do. It's also just a lot more efficient. "The first generation in biofuels research was using the corn plant to make ethanol. The second generation involves using the non-food parts of the corn plant to create cellulosic ethanol. Algal oil -- which yields much higher energy density while requiring less land and water than other biodiesel -- represents the third generation." Given the increasing level of funding currently being channeled into algae-related biofuel programs, it appears that Sayne and Enterprise are far from alone in their optimism.

In addition to establishing the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute in 2007 with a $25-million endowment, the firm, which also owns National and Alamo Rent-A-Car, currently numbers more than 73,000 flex fuel vehicles and 4,000 hybrid cars in its 1.1-million unit worldwide fleet.

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