A Southern California company intends to mine a biofuel source from the ocean\u2019s depths to help people soar through the sky. Los Angeles-based OriginOil was chosen to participate in a pilot initiative in Mexico that involves producing jet fuel from algae. The project, which is sponsored through grants from the Mexican government, hinges upon OriginOil technological developments in the emerging field of algae fuel production. For much of the past decade, scientists in the U.S. and Europe have been trying to devise ways to use algae fuel to power electrical plants. A 40 MW algae fuel-powered plant has been in the works in Venice, Italy, since 2009. If it comes online later this year, it would be the first of its kind. Under the plant\u2019s generation process, cultivated algae would result in biomass that could be treated to produce fuel to turn turbines. Also, the resulting carbon dioxide would be fed back to the algae, resulting in zero emissions from the plant, according to the plant\u2019s developer, renewable energy services company Enalg SpA. Now Mexico hopes to produce one percent of its jet fuel via algae-derived oil by 2015--the equivalent of about 20 million gallons. By 2020, it hopes to increase the yield 20 times--to roughly 180 million gallons. OriginOil\u2019s chief executive officer, Riggs Eckelberry, said the main force driving the movement toward biofuels south of the California border is that the country\u2019s leaders see certain natural resources drying up. \u201cMexico\u2019s oil drilling capacity is dwindling fast, and this is part of their project to replace that capacity with organic fuels,\u201d he said. \u201cThey\u2019re well aware that their future as a petroleum-producing country is coming to an end, and so they need to invest in renewables because they\u2019re not going to have oil coming out of the ground anymore.\u201d At the same time, the company has not yet produced one gallon of algae jet fuel in Mexico, Eckelberry admitted. \u201cSo there\u2019s going to be a lot of development.\u201d To bolster his case, he cited benefits of algal fuels that include producing them from ocean water and wastewater, avoiding freshwater impacts. In addition, the algae derived biofuels at issue are biodegradable and cause little or no environmental harm if spilled, according to Eckelberry. Algae yields 30 times more energy per acre than land crops like soybeans, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That is because their cellular structure is simpler and they can grow in harsher conditions than land crops. Mexico is just one of the most recent countries outside the U.S. looking at the viability of algae fuels. Several universities in the United Kingdom have worked on producing oil from algae fuel in recent years, as have Spain and the Ukraine. But the goal of going from zero percent algae fuel production to 20 percent in 10 years is far more ambitious than anything being contemplated in America, Eckelberry said. \u201cNobody is setting that kind of goal in the United States,\u201d he said. \u201cThe only quota being set is for ethanol. We\u2019re finding all of the action outside the U.S.\u201d One of the reasons cited for this is cost; although the technology is feasible, it\u2019s still pretty expensive compared to other methods of fuel refinement. Thus far, most of the large-scale development has come from the U.S. military. Last year, the Department of Defense division that develops new technology for military usage began large-scale production of algae oil into jet fuel. Extraction costs about $2 per gallon, with refinement costing about $3 a gallon. The cost to fully produce a gallon of gas is about $2 per gallon. The Mexican aviation biofuel project consists of three stages. In the first, an \u201calpha site\u201d is expected to be set up in Ensenada, Baja California, where algae growers will be trained to staff other project locations, called \u201cbeta sites\u201d throughout Mexico. The \u201calpha\u201d site will not exceed one hectare and its capacity will be nominal due to continuous experimentation, Eckelberry said. A Mexican company, Genesis Ventures, is set to implement the second stage--staffing and development of the four \u201cbeta\u201d sites around the country, the locations of which have yet to be announced by the Mexican government. Genesis Ventures, which is based in Ensenada, where seawater and sunlight are plentiful, is the project\u2019s operator. The company received a grant through Mexico\u2019s National Council for Science and Technology and will in turn provide funding to OriginOil. \u201cGenesis is going to receive the grant and operate the whole project \u2026 with us supplying technology and know-how,\u201d Eckelberry said. The third stage of the project consists of as many as twenty 1,000-hectare algae farms spread throughout the country, with each hectare producing about 200 kg of algae biomass per day. The project is slated to begin in a matter of weeks.