The Guardian has a report on efforts by the US military to promote the development of algae based fuel (and some very optimistic timeframes being claimed for production) - Algae to solve the Pentagon's jet fuel problem.
The brains trust of the Pentagon says it is just months away from producing a jet fuel from algae for the same cost as its fossil-fuel equivalent.
The claim, which comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) that helped to develop the internet and satellite navigation systems, has taken industry insiders by surprise. A cheap, low-carbon fuel would not only help the US military, the nation's single largest consumer of energy, to wean itself off its oil addiction, but would also hold the promise of low-carbon driving and flying for all.
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."
McQuiston said a larger-scale refining operation, producing 50 million gallons a year, would come on line in 2011 and she was hopeful the costs would drop still further – ensuring that the algae-based fuel would be competitive with fossil fuels. She said the projects, run by private firms SAIC and General Atomics, expected to yield 1,000 gallons of oil per acre from the algal farm.