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September 17, 2008

Jet Fuel from Pond Scum

Bangkok
From the lab to the runway.
Photo: Solazyme

by Brook Wilkinson

Last week, Solazyme announced that it had successfully produced the first algae-based jet fuel--and that it already passed 11 of the toughest specifications required to meet industry standards for aviation turbine fuel. These include not freezing at high altitude and having the same flashpoint (the temperature at which it ignites) as conventional jet fuel.

You might be wondering, what on earth does algae have to do with jet engines? Solazyme has figured out how to genetically engineer algae to feed on high-productivity grasses and industrial byproducts; when the algae has eaten its fill, it produces oil to store the extra energy--which may someday power your Boeing or Airbus.

For now, the algae-based fuel costs more than the traditional petroleum-based stuff, but that could well change in a few years. Here's hoping at least a few of the cash-strapped airlines will survive that long.

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