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How the US could rapidly develop a local, algae derived diesel

fuel production capability in Afghanistan – By Peter 
Bell

Fuel truck on fireThis 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 countries.    

The 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.

Closed reactorAlgae pond at CCCTwo algae cultivation paths could be used, one with open ponds and the other with closed reactors.

The open ponds could be more suitable for larg
e, more permanent installations like airfields.

Close
d 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).

Harvesting 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 be 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 economically sustainable.


The RFP reactorRefining 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 technology.

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.  


The 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 specifications would also be possible with further development work to down scale existing isomerization technology, currently available in the petro-refining industry.


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 Diesel.  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.


reactor on a trailer.jpgThe 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.

Reactor Schematic
The refining equipm
ent can be modularly scaled up to result in any size of refining facility required and put into operation in under 24 hours. 

Bagram with algae ponds1,000 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). 


CCC facility in the Imperial Valley The 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.


If 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.


As 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 the 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 taxpayers.   

 

     
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