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2009 July 27

Pentagon looks to algae for cheap military-grade biofuels

David Landes
The US military is funding a number of research projects in hopes of developing algae-derived biofuels to help lower the costs of operating its massive fleet of planes and other vehicles.

In December, the Pentagon’s Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), awarded $35 million in research grants to two California-based companies with the aim of coming up with an algae-based biofuel, the AP news service reports.

Ultimately, the US military hopes to find a biofuel from algae that costs less than $3 per gallon and could be produced on a scale of up to 50 million gallons per year.

"We believe it's possible. We wouldn't invest in it if we didn't," said DARPA spokesperson Jan Walker to AP.

The grants are part of a larger Pentagon-funded research effort spread among many companies and universities across the country.

With close to 40,000 species of algae to choose from, finding the right one for the job is one of the greatest challenges.

While some algae are fast growing, they may not produce much oil; others have high oil yields, but don’t grow very quickly.

In searching for algae ideally suited for producing fuels cheaply, researchers must also examine other factors like temperature, sunlight, and the combination of nutrients provided.

"There's so many variables to look at," said Utah State University researcher Jeff Muhs.

"You can begin to see why there's a need for research. It's a daunting task."

Read the full article here.