The Future of BioDiesel? - 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI: The Future of BioDiesel?

April 03, 2012


When you mention biodiesel, I'm always thinking about those crazy guys who collect used cooking oil from restaurants. Some diesel car drives by and it smells like French fries. Like that.

Volkswagen apparently thinks different, as it recently did a deal to loan a couple of VW TDIs each to some high-tech players in the biodiesel world, Amyris and Solazyme.

Amyris uses its proprietary bio-engineering to enable algae to produce oil from plant-sourced sugar through fermentation. It has a partnership with Total, the French fuel company, to develop jet fuel, and it has another partnership with Brazil to develop large-scale production using sugarcane.

Meanwhile, Solazyme has its own biodiesel made from algae fermentation and it already has achieved some impact on the fuels front in partnership with Chevron as a supplier of experimental biodiesel for jets and ships to the U.S. Navy.

At the same time, large-scale biodiesel production from algae is still down the road, a measure of just how difficult it is to replicate laboratory experiments on a commercial scale. Indeed, delays and even bankruptcies have plagued the biofuel industry, and it's a future that seems to recede into the distance before our eyes.

It's fair to say that there's a way to go before biodiesel gets here in the kind of volume you would notice at the gas station. Yet these developments suggest that it indeed will get here in the end, only we're just not sure in what form. In any case, diesel models accounted for 23 percent of Volkswagen sales last month, an increase of 44 percent over the same period in 2011, so there are plenty of empty fuel tanks waiting.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 21,554 miles

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