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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions > Fuels & Renewable Energy

New Fuel Markets are Shaped by DOE

Algae finds a new market niche that needs huge amounts of biofuels to meet federal and military mandates.

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AP reports that market shifts are happening in the green vehicular energy field. Green renewable energy for consumer transportation is shifting from biodiesel to electric. That leaves bio-based fuel companies looking for a different market... and the DOE is helping make that leap into specialized fuel niches.

Algae produces oil

Much of the traditional fossil fuel oil currently being drilled for was originally created by ocean-based algae. Today's algae industry is taking that same natural system and turning plant matter into algae-based biofuel at a more rapid pace using industrial methods.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been researching algae oils and fuels since the 1980s, but in the 1990s the effort was curtailed as petroleum prices dropped and algae fuels were considered too costly to compete.

Military: renewable fuels and nuclear power

The U.S. military hopes to run 50% of its fleet on a mixture of renewable fuels and nuclear power by 2020. As part of this drive, the Department of Defense has been investing in companies like Solazyme to help jump-start the young industry.

Big government market is miliary

The military as a whole uses more than 90% of the energy consumed by the federal government, officials said. The federal government uses about 2 percent of the energy consumed by the U.S.

The U.S. Navy has already tested Solazyme's algae fuels on part of its fleet, with promising results, and plans to have its entire non-nuclear fleet tested by the end of 2012.

Billions of dollars of military aircraft and ships will not be replaced anytime soon, so finding a cleaner, domestically produced source of fuel compatible with the current generation of equipment is the best way to decrease reliance on foreign sources of oil.

Focusing on making fuels for the military was an easy choice for Solazyme — the biofuels market for passenger cars has taken a backseat to electric vehicles as the focus of the future consumer market.

Fuels made from algae oil burn cleaner than fossil fuels and require no drilling to acquire, which means fewer greenhouse gas emissions from the beginning to the end of the fuel's life cycle. Wolfson said Solazyme's diesel fuels can reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 85 percent versus petroleum diesel, when you take into account the drilling, shipping and refining required in traditional fuel.

Currently, only about 1 percent of the fuels used by the Navy would be considered renewable by most standards. Sixteen percent of the Navy's energy and fuel needs are achieved through nuclear power, with the rest from traditional sources.

For the Navy to achieve its 50 percent goals alone, production of algae and other renewable fuels will have to increase exponentially. Hicks said the Navy will need 8 million barrels of renewable fuels in 2020 to achieve its goals.

Solazyme received a $21.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy last year to build a new refinery in Riverside, Penn., to help push production to commercial levels.

Read more at AP.



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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