Great coverage, fatal PR? The Algae-Fueled Hypemobile Rolls On

Tricked out Hypemobile

Tricked out Hypemobile

Posted by Tom Gable

Gable PR works with several renewable energy clients, participate in clean tech and other organizations and our teams are always watching for good news on advances in technology that can help wean our world from its addiction to foreign oil.

Last week, our news trackers picked up the announcement of what appeared to be a great concept – a cross-country tour to promote the use of algae as a source for fuel to power automobiles. This could create what some PR professionals refer to as “rolling thunder,” where you launch something and watch the results roll across the country making big noise at every stop, with awareness and reputation building accordingly.

Unfortunately, this particular trip may be producing an ill-wind along the way (some cynics might use more descriptive and colorful terms). To start you on the journey, here are the first two paragraphs of the news release announcing the tour from the Sapphire Energy Web site:

“Veggie Van Organization and the FUEL Movie to Unveil the Algaeus”

Los Angeles, CA (August 27, 2009) – Green Fuel is real fuel as the Algaeus, the world’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle to cross the country on fuel containing a blend of algae-based renewable gasoline, hits the road to celebrate the launch of the award-winning film FUEL. Sponsored by the Veggie Van Organization, the eco-aggressive, 10-day cross country tour features a caravan of high technology ‘green’ vehicles, led by the groundbreaking Algaeus, which is fueled by Sapphire Energy. The tour kicks off on September 8 in San Francisco and culminates in New York City on September 18 to celebrate the nationwide premiere of FUEL, the movie that inspires green energy solutions such as those demonstrated on the tour.

Sundance Film Festival Winning Director of “FUEL” and Founder/Co-Director of Veggie Van Organization, Josh Tickell, says of the big news, “What better way to show that the energy solutions we have been waiting for are here than driving the world’s first algae fuel powered, 150 mile per gallon, plug-in-electric hybrid vehicle across America to celebrate the opening of a movie about a new green economy.”

What better way, indeed, until one starts probing into the facts of the case and the details of the car, a converted plug-in Prius; the deal is 95 percent hype and 5 percent reality.

The hype: using just 25 gallons of fuel to cross the country in the hybrid electric vehicle with just 5 percent of that algae-based fuel, or 1.25 gallons. The trek started with the unveiling of the car in San Francisco on September 8. For the 1.25 gallons, Tickell and his FUEL promotion team and Sapphire Energy achieved incredible media mileage, garnering attention from environmental bloggers, television and print media. Then, critical comments started popping up on multiple renewable energy Web sites and blogs. Here are a few highlights:

  • Well it’s not getting across the country by algae; it’s getting 5% of the way across the country by algae.
  • I suppose a publicity stunt is what is needed, but there are a lot of deceptive words in the press release…Because of the ethanol mandate, it could have more corn ethanol than algae fuel, yet it’s touted as being powered by algae…Why not call it the Cornius?
  • The car could probably succeed on 5 percent Mazola oil or recycled cooking oil from the McDonald’s deep fryers along the way. Does this really prove anything scientifically? It’s just a promotion from the Fuel movie and the media are going along for the ride.
  • So, a plug in hybrid, that utilizes a 5% algae gasoline mix will go coast-to-coast on only 25 gallons of fuel! So, what that means is that this vehicle and this publicity stunt, will be running mostly off of plug in power and good old fashioned gasoline. What that means kids, is that, the primary fuel being used for this little escapade is gasoline! 23.75 gallons of it, to be exact. The secondary fuel will be coal! Coal fired power plants will generate electricity which this vehicle will steal from hotels across the nation.
  • 0.5 gallons of algae fuel per tankful. At that rate, you could put that much water and an emulsifier in the tank and claim that the car runs on water!
  • The economy comes from the fact that it is a P-HEV, not from the fact it runs on algae ethanol…The overwhelming majority of the energy for this trip comes from oil based gasoline and electricity from a high carbon grid. Still fuel efficient, no contest there, but (it is) no more efficient or exciting as any other P-HEV on the road, except for the paint job. GREENWASHING!!!
  • If they’re going to use just 5% algae in the fuel, fine — but then they shouldn’t claim that the car is “powered by green crude” and paint a big “powered by ALGAE” sign on the side.
  • We need real green tech, not phony marketing ploys. This stunt could do more to discredit green technology than promote it. Some people will look at this, find out the truth, and conclude that biofuels are a hoax. Sad, because biofuels are actually a good idea that just hasn’t quite arrived yet.
  • I like the comment about substituting the algae fuel for the same amount of water and you call the car the Aqua-us!
  • How stupid do these PR brats think the public is? This…is all about drumming money out of gullible investors along the way, not about saving energy or the planet.
  • Seems to me that the Josh Tickell polluting the green movement are the reason that any viable “green fuel solution” is still well beyond the horizon…It would be real interesting to hear T. Boone Pickens’ take on this cross-country charade.

For further details, check the sponsoring Veggie Van organization Web site, which almost looks like a put-on. Its mission is “to facilitate the transition from fossil fuel use toward a new green economy by educating people about sustainable energy and providing them with appropriate pathways for integrating sustainable energy into homes, schools, communities, cities, states and ultimately nations.” The main vehicle for doing this (other than the colorful and media-friendly vehicles in its fleet) will be “to create a green curriculum that is nationally accredited for K-12 and to make available, free of charge, a 35 minute educational version of ‘FUEL’ to every school in the United States.”

The bottom line: generating more promotion for the movie and not much action in supporting the somewhat fuzzy mission statement. It will be interesting to see how the media react when the Hypemobile arrives in New York City on Sept. 18 for the theatrical launch and press event.

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3 Responses to “Great coverage, fatal PR? The Algae-Fueled Hypemobile Rolls On”

  1. JCitizen says:

    If I were a smart man, I’d start wondering if this is a deliberate stunt to undermine the emerging methanol science and industry, that will bury the oil industry, if properly promoted. Methanol is the REAL threat to the oil industry! Even Alan Greenspan couldn’t understand why ethanol was picked as an oil additive, when methanol could replace oil for good.

    The best way to obfuscate this is to pull stunts like this from supposedly “well meaning” greenie enthusiasts, but end up discrediting the entire research field!

    I smell an oil concern rat!

    The petroleum and other industries should be concerned, as the way it looks right now algae could manufacture methanol in HUGE quantities! Don’t underestimate diatomic life forces!

  2. Your understandable ridicule of this very low percentage of “algae fuel” is not technically sound, or really fair.
    As a Proof of Concept, it’s a success.
    Running something that isn’t an effective fuel would have stalled the vehicle. Five percent “water + emulsifier,” the car would have stayed in California.
    Though the Veggie folks did themselves no favor by using wording that essentially implies the car was run solely by algae, this is more the norm than exception in the whole alternative-fuel arena. Biodiesel at the pump is virtually always a blend, B2- or B-5 (2% or 5% biodiesel). Biofuel home heating oil: also usually 5%.

  3. admin says:

    Having an electric car that uses 25 gallons of fuel on a cross-country trip, with just 1.25 gallons being algae biofuels, seems trivial and far from providing proof of concept. Seems a bit of a stretch. How about if they provide thousands of gallons of 95-5 or 90-10 fuel to a fleet of taxi cabs for a few months? That would be worth noting.