A Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency programme to create technologies that could produce 50 million barrels a year of agricultural or aquatic-based JP-8 jet fuel at less than $0.79 a litre ($3/USgal) is in a holding pattern after a 29 May protest by a vendor apparently excluded from the initial stages of the competition.

DARPA had hoped by next year to award as many as three project teams of multiple vendors up to $15 million each to produce a biofuel and process that could meet JP-8 specifications and be scaled up for mass production.

News of the disarray came as PetroSun, an Arizona-based company involved in gas and oil exploration as well as "algae-to-algal oil alternative biofuel production", announced its departure as a contender for the prize on 5 August.

"PetroSun has chosen to go down a separate path in order to expedite the potential of algae being processed into commercial jet fuel," says Gordon LeBlanc, chief executive of PetroSun. "Our withdrawal was prompted by the uncertainty of the award process, combined with an opportunity to initiate a project with a renewable fuel refiner and a commercial jet fuel end-user."

The company, which was unavailable for comment, reported on its web site that it is establishing algae farms and algal oil extract plants in Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Mexico and Central America this year.

Darpa confirms that a protest is pending with the Government Accountability Office, and as such, "awards under the Broad Agency Announcement are pending".

Source: Flight International