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Jet fuel from algae passes first test

No, not flight, not yet. But Solazyme—the mavericks who make their algal oil in the dark—have produced a jet fuel that passes the ASTM's standards for "aviation turbine fuel," otherwise known as jet fuel. This makes it the first such bio-kerosene from algae, being earnestly sought by the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (better known as DARPA) as well as the U.S. Air Force.

In addition to not freezing at high altitude as biofuels are prone to do, the testing by the Southwest Research Institute shows that it has the same flashpoint, viscosity and stability as regular Jet A. Most importantly, it has the same density—a key characteristic that other alternative fuels, such as those derived from natural gas or coal, lack.

That doesn't mean Solazyme Jet A will be showing up at airports anytime soon, much to  the chagrin of airlines (not to mention their passengers) since they are taking a beating both in fuel costs (currently more than $3 per gallon) and environmental impact—it still costs more than fossil fuel and Solazyme doesn't own the infrastructure to produce much of it. "If we had our own equipment we could make millions of gallons," says CEO Jonathan Wolfson. But the "capital involved in owning that equipment is massive."

It does mean, however, that there's a new biofuel to flight test—Boeing would need 1,000 gallons to test it in its aircraft—and one that doesn't require clearing rainforests for palm oil plantations or vast new plantings of babassu nuts. All it takes is some algae in a 30-foot-tall fermenting tank.

Image: ©David Joyner/istockphoto.com

 

 

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