USU researchers blazing trails with car fueled by algae, safflower seeds

LOGAN — Utah State University researchers are using the Bonneville Salt Flats to market what they believe is the fuel of the future: a biofuel made with algae and safflower seeds. For some, salt is the stuff dreams are made of.

“Racing on the salt is something I’ve been wanting to do for probably 35 years,” Steve Menendez said Monday.

Menendez came from St. Louis, Missouri, to break a record at the World of Speed. He went nearly 135 mph in a small-engine diesel truck. That’s about 30 mph over the previous record.

“I’ve been dreaming about this for so long, and I come out on our first trip to Bonneville and then set a record, and bump our own record. Nothing beats it,” he said.

He also teamed with a different kind of racer — the kind that wears a lab coat. Michael Morgan, a research assistant at USU, is out to prove something.

“Not only can we run it in our everyday cars, but when we want to, come here and run it as fast as we possibly can,” Morgan said.

The diesel fuel his team made with algae and safflower seeds can stack up to the real thing, he said.

“I know that the world only has so many resources. We’re using them up quickly,” Morgan said.

The type of biodiesel he uses is expensive, but costs continue to decline as research moves forward.

The governing board at the salt flats does not take records made using biodiesel, so for Morgan it was all an exhibition. Still, he said it’s worth a start.

“Here is where the world pays attention,” Morgan said. “It’s one of those places that this really is the mecca of speed for the world.”

The thirst for speed doesn’t hurt, either. After fueling with a mix of 20 percent biodiesel, Morgan suited up and got ready to ride on the back of a Dodge Rampage. It was a tribute to former colleague Dallas Hanks.

“Cancer actually took him away from us here in June,” Morgan said.

Hanks created the safflower seed fuel, making Morgan’s drive at more than 100 mph a bit of a personal journey to fulfill a friend’s dream.

“We want people to know about the work that he did,” Morgan said.


Photo caption: USU researchers use the Bonneville Salt Flats Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, to show how well a car fueled with 20 percent biofuel made of algae and safflower can perform.

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