You’ve heard of food grease powering cars. How about algae running airplanes? No, it’s not the stuff of science fiction: This jar of algae produces lipids that are similar to petroleum and could fuel jets. Studying this idea constitutes just a sliver of the $300 million in research conducted at Golden’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a principal research facility for the U.S. Department of Energy. In recent years, soaring oil prices and the unsettled political situation in the Middle East have given more prominence to NREL’s biofuel projects. Finding an economical way to produce the algae fuel is key to the work: “We aren’t interested in supporting a boutique industry,” says Philip Pienkos, who heads up NREL’s algae research. “We’re interested in supporting an industry that can compete with petroleum.”

57 Billion*: Gallons of diesel fuel that could be produced annually by maximizing algae production on U.S. land. Exclusive: View more pictures of the green stuff here.