A car running on fuel made from algae grown on human sewage has made its world debut.
The 5 per cent blend biodiesel was taken for a road test from Parliament by Energy Minister David Parker and Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.
They took the four-wheel-drive for a spin around central Wellington to assess the new fuel's efficiency. The sewerage pond byproduct performed admirably, the green-brown liquid performing with no discernable difference from normal fuel.
The biodiesel was developed by Marlborough company Aquaflow, and is understood to be a world first.
Most of the world's bio-diesel comes from specifically grown crops such as rape and soya beans, but the algae fuel can be made from any organic waste. Aquaflow's first batch comes from sewerage ponds, but waste from freezing works and dairy farms are considered other potential bio-diesel well-springs.
Aquaflow believes its process is a scientific breakthrough regarded by international researchers as being years away.
It has spent five years and about $1 million to develop its bio-diesel to this point.
It was used successfully in a static engine test at Massey University's Wellington campus on Monday, but Mr Parker's test drive was the first time a vehicle had driven anywhere powered by the fuel.
The minister's excursion did have some people's nerves on edge as it neared the 10-minute mark, but he steered the four-wheel-drive back on to Parliament's forecourt before jokes about needing to call a tow-truck became a reality.
"This is an example of how many other benefits there are from things which make good from a climate change perspective," Mr Parker said.
"It helps clean up the water, but it also provides a fuel source."
The Government has just revised its energy research programme, with the scheme highlighting the importance of developing renewable fuel.
Development of the algae fuel was partly funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
Aquaflow hopes its fuel will be able to go into full production to facilitate the Government's target for diesel to be 5 per cent blended with bio-diesel.
"It will be economic or we wouldn't be doing it," Aquaflow spokesman Barrie Leay said.
"It's all about scale. The two things are going to be the energy-efficiency of the process - if the energy balance is not right it doesn't work economically - and the capital involved."
Mr Leay said bio-diesel was about 90 per cent cleaner in terms of greenhouse gasses than regular fuel, but vehicles did lose about 3 per cent efficiency compared with mineral diesel.
"There's a little bit of a trade-off but not sufficient for most people to even notice."