Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Algae Biofuels as Force Multipliers

We've looked at synth fuels and biofuels several times in the past (including here). Now here's a short and timely from DOD Energy Blog guest blogger and Navy energy contractor, Vince Marshall.

Fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel and JP-5 have numerous advantages to military commanders. They are very dense in terms of energy per volume and robust in terms of handling and storage. Military supply systems are set up to handle liquid fuels and we have many decades of experience with them. It is difficult to picture an M-1 battle tank or Air Force C-17 with massive battery banks in place of fuel tanks in the near future. Why? Because batteries don’t currently have nearly the same energy density as liquid fossil fuels.

However, some of the issues with liquid fossil fuels are:
  • Where the fuel comes from. Countries unfriendly to the US have lots of oil resources and at present we're more dependent on them than we'd ever want to be
  • Fuel prices and availability are volatile. It is difficult to budget for cartel manipulation of supply
  • Fossil fuels have been locked underground for millions of years. They have to be located, brought to the surface, cleaned, treated and then lit on fire to drive our vehicles. This releases carbon into the atmosphere, which is generally not a good thing these days
  • There is a finite supply. At some point we will run dry
Algae based biofuels retain the advantages of existing fossil fuels without most of the downsides. They mimic fossil fuels performance without price and supply volatility. They don’t compete with food crops such as corn based ethanol products and they sequester pollutants such Nitrates and Phosphorus from the water.

This article in the UK's Guardian paints a promising picture. DARPA has been on the leading edge of Algae based biofuel research and has recently set short term price targets of $3.00 per gallon with ultimate goals of delivering fuels at $1.50/ Gal or less. DARPA is predicting large scale production to begin in 2013-2014. Producing our own cost-effective liquid fuels will be a force multiplier not only for the US Military, but for our entire country.

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