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US military funds algae fuel research

Two San Diego companies have won multi-million-dollar contracts to help the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) develop algae-based jet fuels for military use.

DARPA is seeking an algae-based alternative to the JP-8 fuel used by the US Air Force. Such an alternative could also be used to streamline fuel supplies for Army vehicles, according to the publication Defense Industry Daily.

Investigating ways to make algae-based jet fuels both technically and commercially feasible will be Science Applications International Corp., which was awarded a $14.9 million contract, and General Atomics, which won a $19.9 million for research to be conducted in cooperation with the Scripps Institutions of Oceanography, Arizona State University, Blue Sun Biodiesel, Texas A&M AgriLIFE, UOP, Hawaii Bio Energy, the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center and Utah State University.

Both contracts will run through early to mid-2010.

“Throughout history, energy has been the limiting factor in all military operations, whether it was Roman armies foraging for supplies, or General George S. Patton running out of fuel as he dashed across France, or the long military buildup in Desert Storm,” Doug Kirkpatrick, DARPA’s program manager for BioFuels, told a DARPA symposium last year. In Iraq alone, he continued, “Seventy percent of our strategic logistics lift requirement is in bulk fluids, primarily fuel.”

More than 90 percent of the fuel used by the US Department of Defense is JP-8, according to DARPA. In 2006 alone, the military purchased more than 71 million barrels of JP-8 fuel at a cost of more than $6 billion (US).

The US Army Corps of Engineers warned in a 2005 report that “the days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close … ” It also noted that, “The U.S. cannot drill its way to energy independence nor can we do it all with renewables and efficiency.”

Funny, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that certain US politicians were cheering, “Drill, baby, drill.” Mayhap they should read their own government’s research more?

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