Researchers evaluate algae jet fuel
ASU researchers are part of a team led by UOP, a Honeywell company that is looking at alternative sources of oil that could be used to produce Jet Propellant 8 (JP-8) or military jet fuel.
The goal of the project, which is backed by a $6.7 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is to develop and commercialize a process to produce JP-8, which is used by U.S. and NATO militaries.
The ASU team in the School of Applied Arts and Sciences will lead an effort to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of using algae as an alternative feedstock resource. ASU’s researchers Qiang Hu and Milton Sommerfeld will screen for oil-rich algal strains, evaluate their potential as oil producers and develop an algal feedstock production system that will yield competitively priced oil that can be converted into jet fuel.
Hu and Sommerfeld, who direct the Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology, have focused on algae as a source of renewable oil for more than 20 years. The benefits of oil produced from algae are endless, according to the ASU researchers.
“Algae are non-food/feed sources, so there is no inherent conflict of using food crop plants for fuel rather than for food,” say Hu and Sommerfeld. “Also, algae can be grown on land that is unsuitable for agriculture and can use saline or brackish water, making the algae feedstock production system complementary, rather than competitive, to existing agriculture.
“Moreover, since algae can use carbon dioxide from waste or flue gases as a nutrient for growth, an added value of algae feedstock production is environmental carbon sequestration.”
While algal oil is very similar to other vegetable oils in terms of fatty acid composition, the oil yield of algae is projected to be at least 100 times that of soybean per acre of land on an annual basis.
ASU, UOP, Honeywell Aerospace, Southwest Research Institute and Sandia National Laboratories researchers will be working to help develop and commercialize a process to produce jet fuel that is vegetable- or algal oil-based rather than petroleum-based.
“We are confident that we have assembled a strong team of experts that will be successful in proving the viability of biofeedstock technologies for JP-8 and other jet fuels, while offering the U.S. military another option for sustainable liquid fuels critical to their programs,” says Jennifer Holmgren, director of UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit.
Fuel produced by the new process will have to meet stringent military specifications and is expected to achieve 90 percent energy efficiency for maximum conversion of feed to fuel, to reduce waste and to reduce production costs. UOP expects the technology will be viable for future use in the production of fuel for commercial jets.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.