The Aquatic Species Program launched in 1978 was research program funded by the U.S. DoE, tasked with investigating the use of algae for the production of energy. The program initially focused efforts on the production of hydrogen, however, shifted primary research to studying oil production in 1982. From 1982 through its culmination, the majority of the program research was focused on the production of transportation fuels, notably biodiesel, from algae. In 1995, as part of the over-all efforts to lower budget demands, the DoE decided to end the program. Research stopped in 1996 and staff began compiling their research for publication.
In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which required the United States to increase biofuel use. In accordance with this legislation, the Department of Energy dedicated $125 million to biofuel research in 2014 and brought the United States to use 45% of the world’s biofuels, according to a 2014 article by Delia Gallinaro.
The Department of Energy created the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which supports R&D on alternative fuels. Within EERE, the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) created a Multi-Year Program Plan describing many specific challenges to overcome and goals to complete in order to increase the percentage of fuel in the United States coming from biological sources. BETO organized an Algae Program dedicated to researching and improving the viability of algae as an energy source. EERE’s official page for the Algae Program lists goals including improving yields of algae strains while decreasing expenses of growing algae, filtering the algae from the water, extracting the oils, and processing the biofuel.
The United States Department of Agriculture has also been ordered to fund $881 million of biofuel research, so the organization partnered with the U.S. Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration with the goal of researching algae-based biofuels that can be “dropped-into” current military fuel infrastructure.
This financial incentive for algae biofuel research has facilitated the creation of many algae strains that can be converted to fuel. Current economic assessments cite large-scale pond-cultivated algae fuel prices ranging from at $0.42 to $7.50 per Liter. However, a 2012 economic analysis of commercialization potential and cost optimization determined a much smaller price range of $0.42 to $0.97 per Liter.