Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New method for making diesel fuel uses vegetable oils

This article claims that Galp Energia is working on a project to produce biodiesel using algae. They are supposedly being funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, specifically through DARPA. The program is said to be producing 6,500 barrels a day and they are based in Portugal and they have a business partner based in Italy.

I wasn't able to find any news on the DARPA site, though it's interesting that DARPA does have a biofuels research program. That biofuels research is geared to producing jet fuel.

I find it curious that DARPA is funding a non-U.S. company to develop this. Why go outside the U.S.? Isn't that a strategic liability to fund development of businesses and technologies outside the U.S.?

In any case the CNET News article does rightly point out that 6,500 barrels a day is a drop in the bucket compared to global oil usage. However I think this sort of thing is an important step in the overall development of biofuels, and always when developing a new technology it's best to do a pilot plant first to make sure it works as expected.

The method, developed by UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell, and Eni, the Italian energy company, adds hydrogen to oils derived from food crops to create a substitute that the companies describe as superior to ordinary diesel fuel.

The long-term goal is to modify the process to use oil from algae or from jatropha, a hardy shrub from Central America whose oil has long been burned in lamps and used to make soap.

Using algae, jatropha or oilseed crops like canola as a source of diesel would reduce carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere from diesel engines by 50 percent to 70 percent, according to Jennifer Holmgren, director for renewable energy and chemicals at UOP. The company argues that its method produces a fuel superior to the standard biodiesel already being made in places like the American Midwest.

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