Researchers Turn Algae Into Fuel at Tyndall's Air Force Research Laboratory

By: Meredith TerHaar Email
By: Meredith TerHaar Email

Tyndall Air Force Base - Algae, it grows fast and it grows just about anywhere. That's just one of the reasons the Air Force is trying to figure out how to use it as a fuel source. Researchers at Tyndall Air Force Base began exploring the possibilities of algae-based biofuel three years ago, and it looks promising.

Bubbling green goo. It looks like something out of a mad scientist movie. But in fact it's part of a multi-million dollar research project being conducted at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Tyndall. "We are trying to find ways to produce on site power. In this case, algae-based power. We digest it, just like a waste water treatment plant, we make methane that we can burn as a fuel or a substitute in gas and diesel engines," said research engineer Bobby Diltz.

The goal: to reduce the Air Force's reliance on foreign fossil fuels. "When oil really spiked to $140 a barrel the DOD's budget hit 7 or 8 billion dollars. The budget became nearly impossible to predict. This is a way to streamline the process of getting the cost more under control so we don't rely solely on someone else to bring it in," said Diltz.

This specific project focuses on producing algae-based biofuel on deployed bases, which are bases that are temporarily set up overseas, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. "To get gas to the tip of the spear, as we call it, it becomes much more expensive. If you can produce on site you don't have to worry about the people needed to protect the fuel convoy. You can reduce the hundreds it costs to transport the fuel," said Diltz.

So why is all this happening at Tyndall? "A lot of people call the southeast the OPEC of biofuel because we have a lot of sunshine, and a lot of rain, we grow a lot of trees and algae, a lot of biomass for biofuel." Diltz says military bases in the U.S. could start using algae fuel in the next 4 or 5 years, it will likely be a few more years before deployed bases start implementing it.

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