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Diesel From Algae?

This past summer I went out to an algae farm near the Salton Sea,  past Julian, through the Anza Borrego Desert, to a little dusty town called Scranton, where I was informed I was just in time for “Redneck Christmas.” This meant hunting season had just opened, so duck, quail, road runner, you name it…were all fair game, and bbq smoke was already thick in the air.

I drove out to this 100 degree, face melting oven to find my friend, Kristian Gustavson, who was playing algae farmer for the summer. Kristian, who recently earned his masters in Marine Biodiversity from UCSD, is an adventurer conservationist, and his latest project is to race a bike on algae biofuel in the most grueling off road race in the world, the Baja 1000.

But in order to get enough fuel for the race, he had to make it himself…you can’t just buy algae biodiesel from your friendly neighborhood Chevron, yet. So Kristian and the non-profit he co-founded, Below the Surface, teamed up with local scientists and companies to grow his own fuel for the One Barrel For Baja Project. Kristian plans to race next fall, so I will be writing a more complete story then. But for now I wanted to share some pics from my time with the algae farmer.

Welcome to the desert…


The Salton Sea has slowly been dying over the last few decades, the water is too salty and nutrient rich for fish to survive.


The “bread and butter” pond


Kristian getting the harvester dialed in.



Hi-tech algae transport system from the pond to the drying racks





The waste pond is purple because of a strain of bacteria that has adapted to the high salinity, high nutrient environment.

An algae farmer never rests…




Algae production facilities are still using precious fresh water to grow algae, some day we should be able to capture runoff and use it to grow algae, which would prevent harmful algae blooms where we don’t want them- in our lakes, rivers and oceans


Sunset over the algae ponds

6 Responses to “Diesel From Algae?”

  1. Shannon, this is awesome! Very nicely done–thank you!

  2. Jon A Lewis says:

    Hey Kris,

    Nice write up and beautiful photos (Shannon) to let us pry into your biofuel saga. But now I did hear mention of Redneck Christmas and noticed the shank on your belt there… so how much time does algae farming leave for pig hunting!?

  3. Paul Menya says:

    Very nice images and post. However, it’s very a unique project. Diesel from Algae?

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