AMERICAS: Commercial algae biofuel nearer than expected

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an office of the US Department of Defense, will soon – possibly in a matter of months, not years as previously thought – be producing jet fuel made from algae at a price comparable to that of petroleumbased fuel, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported recently. “Oil from algae […]


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an office of the US Department of Defense, will soon – possibly in a matter of months, not years as previously thought – be producing jet fuel made from algae at a price comparable to that of petroleumbased fuel, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported recently.

“Oil from algae is projected at US$2 per gallon (3.8 litres), headed towards $1 per gallon,” said DARPA’s energy special assistant Barbara McQuiston. 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 (190 million litres) of algae-based jet fuel a year.

With a widely expected timeline of about two years for algae-based fuels to become competitive, DARPA’s announcement that it had achieved a cost-effective method of production came as a major surprise. Research into algae biofuels has received massive funding from the US government and Exxon and has been given a major boost by the US military’s aim to supplant half its current energy sources with renewable sources by 2016.