Algae Biodiesel Fuel

Algae Biofuel From DARPA Could Cost Only $1 Per Gallon

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an office of the US Department of Defense, will soon be producing jet fuel made from algae at a price comparable to that of petroleum-based fuel, the UK Guardian reported on Saturday. DARPA could be months, not years, from producing an algal biofuel that is price-competitive with fossil fuels. According to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant to energy for DARPA, “Oil from algae is projected at $2 per gallon, headed towards $1 per gallon.”

The oil produced by algae still needs to be refined into jet fuel, which can be done while still keeping the price under $3 per gallon. McQuiston said an additional refinery will come on line in 2011 and be capable of producing 50 million gallons of algae-based jet fuel a year.

Research into algal biofuels has received massive funding from the US government and Exxon, but DARPA’s breakthrough in achieving a cost-effective method of production still came as a surprise. The director of the Algal Biomass Association, Mary Rosenthal, was taken aback by DARPA’s accelerated timeline and said she expected algal fuels to become competitive “in the next two years.”

DARPA’s work is part of the US military’s efforts to reduce costs and improve the flexibility of its supply chain by relying more on renewable sources of energy. The military aims to get half its energy from renewable sources by 2016, and the US Air Force wants to test 50-50 blends of biofuel and petroleum-based fuel by 2011.

As has been the case for many technological advancements throughout history, the military’s breakthrough advancement in algal fuels could soon benefit American civilians and heating oil users in particular. While the viability of biofuels from algae feedstocks has already been proven, other obstacles preventing biofuels from being widely available and cost-competitive with petroleum fuels have yet to be overcome. DARPA’s announcement signifies the existence of technology to manufacture biofuels at a competitive price point which, in our free-market society, means it is only a matter of time before that same technology makes its way into the private sector.

When that time comes, heating oil users can expect major changes in their heating fuel: higher concentrations of biofuel (from algae and other feedstocks) in heating oil at similar or even significantly lower prices than 100 percent petroleum heating oil.

Cleaner, greener fuel available at lower prices in the next few years; now that’s good news for everybody.

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