US Military: Just Months Until Affordable Algae-Biodiesel

John Davis

One of the biggest knocks on algae-based biodiesel is the high cost for the truly green fuel. But the U.S. military says it is just months away from making biodiesel from algae for the same cost as its petroleum-based counterpart.

The UK’s Guardian reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency … better known as DARPA …. which helped develop the internet and satellite navigation systems, has surprised the industry with the announcement:

Darpa’s research projects have already extracted oil from algal ponds at a cost of $2 per gallon. It is now on track to begin large-scale refining of that oil into jet fuel, at a cost of less than $3 a gallon, according to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant for energy at Darpa. That could turn a promising technology into a ­market-ready one. Researchers have cracked the problem of turning pond scum and seaweed into fuel, but finding a cost-effective method of mass production could be a game-changer. “Everyone is well aware that a lot of things were started in the military,” McQuiston said.

The work is part of a broader Pentagon effort to reduce the military’s thirst for oil, which runs at between 60 and 75 million barrels of oil a year. Much of that is used to keep the US Air Force in flight. Commercial airlines – such as Continental and Virgin Atlantic – have also been looking at the viability of an algae-based jet fuel, as has the Chinese government.

“Darpa has achieved the base goal to date,” she said. “Oil from algae is projected at $2 per gallon, headed towards $1 per gallon.”

DARPA officials expect to have a 50 million-gallon-a-year algae-biodiesel refinery up and running sometime next year, making it possible that cost for the fuel will drop even further.

The effort is part of the Pentagon’s plans to get half of its fuel from renewable sources by 2016.

algae, Biodiesel