How the US
could rapidly develop a local, algae derived diesel
fuel production capability in
Afghanistan – By Peter Bell
This article discusses an idea how a
crash program can be rolled out to locally produce an algae derived, “drop
in”, liquid fuel in Afghanistan, to reduce the US military’s reliance
on physically and politically vulnerable truck convoys,
delivering essential fuel supplies through neighboring
US biofuel industry can help the US military to rapidly stand up local
fuel production in Afghanistan by the cultivation of algae biomass for
subsequent refining into liquid fuels. Algae, unlike any other fuel
crop, can see production of biomass within as little as a 3 day cycle,
which makes it an ideal source of biomass in rapid standup situations
demanded by military operations.
Two algae cultivation paths could be used, one with open ponds and the
other with closed reactors.
The open ponds could be more suitable for large, more permanent installations
Closed reactors that may not even
need sunlight, but use a sugar instead of sunlight for growth energy could be more
suitable for small, or less
fixed installations like Forward Operating Bases (FOBs).
algae at a reasonable price is a huge challenge, but a number of new
technologies are now available with reasonable energy demands that
could see algae biomass refined into fuel at a cost less than $25 per
gallon. The fully burdened cost of fuel at the frontline can
as high as $500 per gallon so being able to deploy with the capability
to produce its own fuel not only ensures supply availability and
reduced supply convoy personnel risk for the US military, but is more
vegetable oil into a finished fuel is the final challenge standing in
the way of rapidly standing up a biofuel production capability in
Afghanistan. The only hydrogen free renewable diesel refining
capability on the market today is RFP’s distributed refining
This is a small scale refining unit capable of
producing 5 gallons of fuel per hour or 50,000 gallons of fuel per year
if used in continuous operation.
current fuel produced by the RFP technology is a “drop in” diesel
replacement fuel meeting the specifications for ASTM D975 on-road
diesel, so is suitable for vehicle and generator requirements even at
100% blend strength. A fuel that matches the JP-8
would also be possible with further development work to down scale
existing isomerization technology, currently available in the
Renewable Fuel Products (RFP) process requires no external inputs
besides a vegetable oil based feedstock, so eliminates the need for
inputs such as the methanol used in the production of Biodiesel or the
hydrogen used in the production of hydrocracked Renewable
The Renewable Fuel Products reactor is not sensitive to the feedstock
water content seen in algal oils and works well with high Free Fatty
Acid (FFA) content oil that is typically seen in waste vegetable oils.
Renewable Fuel Products (RFP) reactor is “drop in” fuel refining
equipment on a small, distributed scale so it can be delivered via
truck or even aircraft.
refining equipment can be modularly scaled up to result in any size of
refining facility required and put into operation in under 24 hours.
1,000 person FOB could meet its requirement for 1.5 million gallons of
fuel on an annualized basis using 500 acres of algae ponds. The most
likely locations for larger algae pond deployments would be on or
around airfields as there is a great deal of flat land available next
to runways that are held in a secure perimeter. A small FOB
installation could be supplied by deploying approximately 25 acres of
ponds to supply 50 staff each using 4 gallons per day or 75,000 gallons
of fuel per year (without aviation).
US has a unique advantage as a testing facility for algae production
technology already exists in the form of the old DOE algae biomass
project in California’s Imperial Valley. The location is now
under private ownership, but still is fully functional producing sample
scale algae quantities.
Using this facility, a pilot scale,
low-budget test project could be stood up rapidly in the US and if
successful, rapidly be deployed to Afghanistan for in-country testing
at the same, small pilot scale.
an in-country Afghan pilot project were subsequently successful, the
technology could rapidly be expanded and in a reasonably short
timeframe, to meet a significant amount of the US military diesel fuel
requirements in Afghanistan. Once this technology has been
development, the US military can take this this fuel production
platform wherever it is deployed, greatly improving its deployment
capability by reducing its current fuel supply-chain vulnerability.
an added bonus, the technology deployed would be the first large scale
implementation for the US algae industry in a fully operational
environment. Lessons learned could have a huge payoff back in
US and enable the US biofuel industry to leapfrog the world in algae
fuel production and at the same time reducing the country’s foreign oil
dependency. Less security risks for the homeland resulting from greater
energy independence ensures the project also has a civilian payoff
benefit for US