The U.S. military's interest in developing algae biofuels dates back at least three years, when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency began to assess the technical capabilities needed to produce JP-8 grade jet fuel. By the end of 2008, DARPA awarded separate contracts to San Diego's General Atomics and SAIC, now based in McLean, VA, to make jet fuel from algae and cellulosic feedstocks.
The extent of the Pentagon's interest became more apparent last week at BIO's Pacific Rim Summit in Honolulu, according to Biofuels Digest. Editor Jim Lane says the Department of Defense could prove to be the ultimate driver of advanced algae-based biofuels in the United States, "by stepping up as a buyer, and communicating buying signals to the makers of advanced biofuels and their financiers."
That view was seconded in a weekend column by none other than Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times, who wrote that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia) wants to create a "Great Green Fleet" by 2012—a 13-ship carrier battle group powered either by nuclear energy or 50-50 blends of biofuels. Navy aircraft assigned to the fleet would fly on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and conventional fuel.
To meet this goal in 2020, the Navy will need 336 million gallons of drop-in advanced biofuels every year.