So we did something absolutely insane. We didn’t mention it at the time because we knew we would be bombarded with criticism and we just didn’t want to hear it, so we kept it to ourselves. But, it looks like our insanity turned out to be a smart choice after all, and since it worked out, we are going to tell you about it.
While we were in Guadeloupe, we met a fellow boater on the docks and started chatting with him. He is an older French fellow who is a retired organic chemist. He has made Pointe a Pitre his home base, and he was mostly cruising around the nearby islands. He asked all the usual questions about our boat, including as how much fuel we carry, fuel burn, engine type, horsepower, etc. He was amazed to hear how far we had come. He looked Kosmos up and down, and then asked if he could see the interior. Once inside, he said “You said you carry 4700 liters, correct?” We said yes. The next series of questions were ones we almost are never asked, including “How many tanks? What are they made of? How much fuel do you have now? Do you use biocide?” We told him two fiberglass main tanks, one aluminum 150 liter tank, about 900 liters left, and yes, we use Biobor biocide.
He asked to see the engine room. He studied the fuel system long and hard, asking some incredibly specific questions about which valves go to which tanks, etc. He asked a lot of questions about the filtration aspects of the system, including what size and brand filters we use. Then he asked “Does it get to be about 45-50 degrees Celsius?” We said “Yes, around that.” Honestly, we were taken aback by the specificity of all his questions. Then, rather abruptly, he asked to leave. He said he needed to go somewhere, and asked us twice if we were going to be staying for a while. We said “Sure, we will be here for at least a few days”.
Almost exactly two hours later, he returned. This time he came with another older man carrying a small satchel. The Frenchman introduced us to his German colleague, who is also a boater. We invited them both aboard.
We learned that they also met here on the docks, about two years earlier. The German man is also a retired scientist, a micro biologist. Both of the men were successful in their times, but are now long since retired and forgotten by their respective scientific communities. But they both still enjoy “talking shop” and they explained that their boating conversations more often then not changed from sails and wind to equations and science.
The biologist had been doing research on the algae that eats oil. One evening over drinks, they talked about the future of bio-fuels. The talk turned to jokes about using algae to make oil instead of eliminating it. This led to an esoteric discussion involving formulas and various equations. Apparently, in the hyper specialized science of today, micro-biologists and organic chemists do not normally interact. But now, through their leisure activity, these compatible brains connected. They came up with some chemical reactions for a theoretical algae. There we several complications and constraints — concentrations, heat, controlling yields, and such. Yet, what they had figured out was simply amazing. If their calculations were right, they may have come up with an algae that could increase the BTU energy content and the cetane level of diesel fuel using the waste heat of a combustion process. It was related to the chemical process of “cracking” diesel used in today’s refining process.
Christi’s eyes started to glaze over as the men got into more details. In college Eric minored in physics and had studied enough chemistry and biology to sort of follow the conversation. The chemist produced several sheets of equations, all hand written. It was not until the German man pulled out a small container of green liquid that Christi started to pay attention again. It looked gross. He proclaimed this was batch 14 alage, and their most successful to date. She asked plainly, “What does it do?”
“They want us to put it in our tanks, to see if it will make us burn less fuel.” Eric said, carefully trying to convey to Christi through facial expression that these guys were nuts but he wanted to continue to humor them. The most basic rule of a powerboat is do not mess with the fuel. We have been very careful about getting quality fuel and keeping algae out of it!
They continued on, saying that Kosmos’ fuel capacity, operating temperature, tank materials, and engine consumption rate were all excellent parameters for their algae. Then came the big claim: “It will reduce your fuel consumption by 50%”. English is a second language to both these men, and Eric thought that these men had made a mistake, saying 50% when they meant 15%, a common mix up since they sound so similar. So, he wrote down 50% on a piece of paper, and said “five zero, as in by one half”. They affirmed it really was 50%. But surely it will clog all the filters, right? They swore the algae is small enough to pass through our filters.
The big trick for the algae to work, however, is the operating conditions. Optimally, it needs to be 42 degree Celsius. And it needs a big enough tank to get into a self sustaining reaction. They wanted our port tank to become their experiment tank. We would need to use the starboard tank until the fuel was up to temperature, then switch to the port tank. In theory, we would see less fuel burn per hour at the same RPM on the port tank.
We thought these guys had lost their minds. And we thought we had lost our minds by not kicking them out. But they were so convincing, and we were drawn like moths to the flame. They answered every one of Eric’s questions with perfect clarity, and it was obvious they had put a lot of effort into looking at every possible complication scenario. We’re not sure how they did it, but they convinced us to give it a try.
So, to make a short story long, we agreed to fill up to capacity on fuel in Guadeloupe for the purpose of the experiment. First, we transferred all the fuel out of the port tank into the starboard tank to clear out any of the lingering biocide, which we normally put in our fuel. While at the fuel dock, we filled the tank about half way and then out came the six twenty liter containers (180 liters, or about 32 US gallons) of “batch 14″ algae mixture. We dumped them into the port tank, looking at each other and shaking our heads. Then, we pumped in the rest of the diesel to give us the prescribed 19:1 concentration ratio.
As we got underway, we pulled fuel from the starboard tank, as instructed. 12 hours later, we hesitantly switched to the port tank, positive the engine would die at any moment from a clogged filter. Eric immediately started the fuel burn measurements. No change. We stared at the active aft fuel filter, just waiting for it to clog. Within a short time, we could see the color change in the aft fuel filter sight glass. Take a look at this:
Once the fuel had changed color, Eric did another fuel burn measurement. And this time, the numbers were different! The fuel burn was down by 15%. Our passage to Barbuda was 22 hours. The starboard tank ran for 12 hours, the port tank for 10. Eric did a fuel burn test every hour, and each test yielded better and better ratios. By the time we arrived in Barbuda, the fuel burn rate was 45% less than normal, just about what was promised. In fact, it seemed as the operating temperature increased, so did our efficiency, which makes sense as the algae really started kicking in. By the end we were burning about 1.2 gallons an hour and doing 6 knots. Normally we used about 2.2 for that speed. This is a very impressive run of essentially 5 miles per gallon, which is simply amazing for a 21 ton boat. This new algae is truly going to revolutionize long range boating. We are so excited to be a small cog in this amazing breakthrough. What an incredible way to celebrate the first of April! It seems like April one is always a special day for Kosmos, such as in 2008 and 2007.