top of page

Mazda develops a new fuel based on marine algae

Synonymous with Japanese cuisine, seaweed has been cultivated since the beginnings of agriculture in Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay), in the mid-17th century. They are also the subject of innovations to fight against global warming: farmers cross species to create new varieties more resistant to increasing ocean temperatures.

Seaweed and other algae can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers and do not cause any major physical changes to the environment. In addition, they can play an important role in combating global warming by absorbing carbon in the atmosphere and regenerating marine ecosystems. They are also considered a sustainable and environmentally friendly resource for the production of biofuel.

Aerial view of a Mozuku seaweed farm, between the islands of Yanaha and Izena, southern Japan.

Biofuels are liquid fuels produced from renewable organic sources, such as plants and algae, and offer low carbon solutions for the transport sector. A renewable resource, algae has a considerable advantage over other crops – notably soy and palm oil for biodiesel, and sugar cane and corn for ethanol. As they grow in both fresh and sea water, algae cultivation does not encroach on agricultural land used for food production. Microalgae, microscopic algae invisible to the naked eye, are the subject of particular attention. The Nannochloropsis species is at the forefront of biofuel research. In cooperation with Hiroshima University, Mazda is using cutting-edge technology to develop high-quality fuel from Nannochloropsis, which would replace fossil fuels in its future vehicles.

A fruitful partnership

Mazda and Hiroshima University work together, as the company is headquartered in Hiroshima Prefecture and many of its employees are university graduates. It was in 2015 that a joint research program on the automotive technology of the future was established: it paved the way for current work on microalgae intended to serve as biofuel.

“The oils produced by Nannochloropsis are easily converted into diesel.» PROFESSOR ATSUSHI SAKAMOTO

The team was among the first to successfully edit the genome of Nannochloropsis – researchers modifying the DNA of this organism. This algae grows quickly and produces a large amount of lipids – natural fats – making it ideal for biofuel production.

“In addition, the oils produced by Nannochloropsis are easily transformed into diesel, a fuel compatible with most Mazda vehicle engines,” points out Professor Atsushi Sakamoto of the Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Life at Hiroshima University. “That said, there are still several major issues that need to be resolved before this type of biofuel can be brought into use at a competitive price.»


Algae, such as Nannochloropsis, grow in freshwater and seawater, making them a viable resource for the production of renewable biofuels.


Through genome editing, scientists can modify the DNA of Nannochloropsis to make it more suitable for biofuels.


Mazda has already tested biofuels on the track, with the Mazda2 Bio Concept at Fuji International Speedway.

Japan is a relatively small country with limited natural resources. Sakamoto notes that it is therefore important to find multiple solutions to reduce CO₂ emissions and to put in place systems to deploy and combine these technologies optimally.

In turn, this technology could play an important role in the world. “Our joint research with Mazda offers an important solution for reducing CO₂ emissions: it addresses the difficult challenge of carbon neutrality by retaining the internal combustion engine and its infrastructure, which are used around the world,” explains Sakamoto.

“Our joint research with Mazda offers an important solution for reducing CO₂ emissions.» PROFESSOR ATSUSHI SAKAMOTO

Vers un avenir plus vert

Autre biocarburant important : l’huile végétale hydrotraitée (HVO), produite à partir d’huile de cuisson usagée et dont les propriétés physiques sont similaires à celles du biocarburant de microalgues. Elle fait déjà l’objet d’une utilisation pratique et s’est avérée intéressante comme carburant pour l’aviation, ce qui laisse présager une augmentation de la demande et du prix des huiles de cuisson usagées à l’avenir.

Qualifié de « laboratoire sur roues », le concept Mazda2 Bio était alimenté à 100 % par du biodiesel fabriqué à partir d’huiles de cuisson usagées et de graisses de micro-algues.

« Notre objectif est d’atteindre la neutralité carbone dans les activités des usines Mazda d’ici 2035, et nous reconnaissons la nécessité d’étendre cet engagement à nos opérations logistiques qui font partie intégrante de notre activité », déclare Shinichiro Maeda, responsable du Champ de recherche sur les Technologies environnementales avancées de Mazda. « On s’attend à une montée en flèche de la demande en HVO produit à partir d’huiles de cuisson usagées, d’où un risque de pénuries d’approvisionnement et une hausse des prix, aussi nous étudions l’utilisation de biocarburants à base de microalgues comme moyen de combler le déficit d’approvisionnement potentiel.

Sous l’œil attentif du professeur Hiroyuki Ohta de l’Institut de technologie de Tokyo (TITEC), figure de proue de la recherche sur les microalgues, et du professeur Takashi Yamamoto, autorité mondiale en matière de modification du génome, Mazda et l’université d’Hiroshima poursuivent leurs recherches conjointes sur l’utilisation des algues comme biocarburant. L’objectif? Augmenter la production et réduire les coûts pour offrir une alternative pratique et concurrentielle au pétrole.

« En outre, la technologie d’édition du génome mise au point dans le cadre de nos recherches est destinée à être appliquée dans le secteur, en particulier à l’université d’Hiroshima. Son application va au-delà de la neutralité carbone et couvre un large éventail de domaines, y compris la médecine et l’agriculture, et nous pensons que des matériaux bénéfiques, caractérisés par une forte valeur ajoutée, peuvent être produits parallèlement au biocarburant », souligne Maeda.

Towards a greener future

Another important biofuel: hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), which is produced from used cooking oil and has physical properties similar to those of microalgae biofuel. It is already in practical use and has proven attractive as an aviation fuel, which suggests an increase in demand and price of used cooking oils in the future.

Described as a “laboratory on wheels,” the Mazda2 Bio concept was powered 100 percent by biodiesel made from used cooking oils and microalgae fats.

“Our goal is to achieve carbon neutrality in Mazda factory operations by 2035, and we recognize the need to extend this commitment to our logistics operations which are an integral part of our business,” says Shinichiro Maeda, head of Mazda Advanced Environmental Technologies research field. “Demand for HVO produced from used cooking oil is expected to skyrocket, potentially leading to supply shortages and rising prices, so we are exploring the use of biofuels to microalgae base as a means of filling the potential supply gap.

Under the watchful eye of Professor Hiroyuki Ohta of the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TITEC), a leading figure in microalgae research, and Professor Takashi Yamamoto, a world authority on genome editing, Mazda and the Hiroshima University continues their joint research on the use of algae as biofuel. The objective? Increase production and reduce costs to provide a practical and competitive alternative to oil.

“In addition, the genome editing technology developed in our research is intended for application in the industry, particularly at Hiroshima University. Its application goes beyond carbon neutrality and covers a wide range of areas, including medicine and agriculture, and we believe that beneficial materials, characterized by high added value, can be produced alongside biofuel,” underlines Maeda.

In line with Mazda's commitment to creating vehicles that contribute to the enjoyment of everyday life and a more sustainable future, it seems clear that we will be hearing a lot more about this biofuel in the near future. From cooking to the transportation sector and beyond, Japanese algae, including marine algae, is a remarkable resource with unlimited potential.

Source: Mazda


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page