Issue: Feb 2010


by Bob Brooks

Published reports by Guardian.Co.UK and others indicate that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) through its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has placed a high priority on increasing military fuel supply security. The target is 50% bio content for all military fuel possibly by 2020 (or sooner) and to get underway quickly by cutting red tape that has slowed and frustrated many bio fuel developers in the U.S...

Barbara McQuiston, special assistant for energy at DARPA reportedly said that a decision will be announced in a few months on bio fuel sources and technology. She has, given a few potentially revealing hints, however, including reference to algae cultivation in open ponds.

DARPA acknowledges that new fuel from algae is likely the best source and has gone so far as to say that refined fuel cost of not over $3.00/gal is expected from crude algae oil in the $2.00/gal range going to $1.00/gal .First supplies of refined bio fuel are expected by 2011 from unexplained source(s).

Illustrating the magnitude of DOD’s target for secure bio fuel is the overall consumption
of current petroleum by the military (land, sea and air) believed to be about 150 million bbl/yr. A particular priority is bio aircraft fuel (Jet A); a target DOD shares with the World’s airlines seeking to cut CO2 emissions and stabilize fuel cost. .
AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRIES notes that DARPA data for cost of algae crude and refined fuel coincide with data reported by Sun Eco Energy, Chino, CA, which claims it is close to initial production from open algae ponds at the rate of 40,000 gal/day and has achieved yield of 33,000 gal/acre/ft/yr from initial pond operations. This yield is over ten times greater and at a fraction of the cost per gallon compared with many others. The Sun Eco firm claims its advantage is in two areas. One is a mixture of over 30 strains of algae in pond cultivation. It also claims a unique way to retain high algae growth in ponds to depths of several feet which multiplies yield per surface acre.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) has continued to indicate its view that algae fuel is another ten years away at cost of about $10.00/gal and yield of 2000 gal/acre/yr or less.

ExxonMobil, which recently revised its estimate to 8 years before algae fuel will be available, has committed $600 million to its development. Yield at the same 2000 gal/acre/yr rate .is expected. ExxonMobil has also indicated it considers Arabia a favorable place to produce algae based fuel due to availability of salt water, unused land mass and abundant sunshine. . This however, may not fit with the U.S. DOD objective to source fuel for military purposes in more secure areas. ExxonMobil, however, has also suggested the U.S. gulf coast as another possible location for production of algae fuel.

Needless to say, there are numerous bio fuel developers who may be involved in the DARPA effort but will likely not be named until DARPA makes its announcement. .Of particular interest will be the favored geographic locations for U.S. bio fuel production of interest to communities seeking transfer of dollars spent on imported oil to domestic bio fuel industry jobs. A current article in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that algae based motor fuel is many years in the future, may not have counted on DARPA’s leadership and is certain to impact the overall bio fuels industry.

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