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Aviation Navy jet flies on biofuel

Published on July 3rd, 2012 | by Tina Casey


U.S. Navy Fires off Another Round of Biofuel Power

July 3rd, 2012 by  

Navy jet flies on biofuel

The U.S. Navy’s Green Strike Group has just sailed out to show off America’s biofuel-enabled power to the world this summer at the RIMPAC maritime exercise, so the timing is perfect for yet another biofuel announcement. This one involves the Navy, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture in a $62 million, public-private effort to develop drop-in aviation biofuel and biodiesel on a cost-competitive scale. Hey, didn’t Congress just say there wouldn’t be any more spending on biofuels?

Biofuels Blow Past Congress

The announcement follows a months-long battle over the U.S. military’s biofuel initiatives, which ended up with a Republican-led attempt in Congress to prevent the Department of Defense from purchasing biofuels, at least not until the price reaches parity with fossil fuels.



Senator John McCain (R-AZ) also tacked on a provision that was supposed to prevent DoD from building its own biorefineries.

However, it seems that the Administration has found a way around both obstacles.

The new round of funding is made possible under a 1950’s-era authority within the Defense Production Act, which has been used routinely in the past to ensure the domestic availability of vital defense-related materials and products such as steel, aluminum and semiconductors.

Of the $62 million in funding, some will go to provide seed money for a new commercial-scale biorefinery as well as pilot and demonstration-scale projects.

Part of the funds will also be aimed at foundational biofuel research with a focus on non-food crops, algae and waste materials.

Together, the projects will help speed the private sector biofuel industry toward parity with petroleum fuel, rendering Congress’s action moot.

Getting Aviation Biofuel off the Ground

“Drop-in” is the catch for the Navy’s aviation biofuel. Qualifying fuels have to meet extreme performance standards for aircraft without damaging engines and related systems, and it also has to go through the existing transportation, storage and fueling infrastructure without damaging equipment or causing new health and safety issues.

The Navy and Air Force have been testing algae and camelina (a weedy plant) biofuel blended 50-50 with conventional fuel on a variety of aircraft including fighter jets and helicopters for more than a year, and so far the biofuel blends have gotten the green light (haha sorry, couldn’t resist that one).

In fact, as reported by Jim Lane over at Biofuels Digest, “new tests conducted at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have revealed that US warplanes are capable of flying faster and carry more payload on missions, when flying with synthetic fuels, including biofuels, compared to conventional military jet fuels made from petroleum.”

RIMPAC and Navy Biofuels

Not for nothing, but RIMPAC (it stands for Rim of the Pacific) is a competitive exercise and it is the largest multinational exercise of its kind in the world, held every other year since 1971.

It will go on all through July with a total of 40 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel from 22 countries including Australia, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia and the U.K.

Aside from trying to out-do the other participants, the Navy’s Green Strike Group is there to show off the power of made-in-America fuels to the entire world, so you’d think that if anything the party of “support our troops” would be sending those ships and aircraft out with a loud cheer instead of trying to monkeywrench the entire biofuel program.

Oh, well.

Image: Some rights reserved by Official U.S. Navy Imagery.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • DeniDieselSubdude

    Go Navy…I guess.  I’m a 28 year Navy Nuke submarine vet.  While we all watch our inept government try to sustain biofuel-ology many of us are already driving on our own renewables (150,000 miles now).  Reviving the simple tried and true (pure) veg oil diesel engine fuel methods of its inventor, this is my 7th year of making my own NON-BIODIESEL (no waste byproduct, no excessive energy inputs, no water/oil waste runoff, no hazardous chemicals required – methanol, caustic…) blended biofuel from waste veg oil.  Why must we insist on complicating the processing of hydrocarbons?

    After building another 8 systems for those asking for help, I will continue to carry on with a smile in my little corner and keep cranking fuel through my 6 year old processor as it nears its 6,500 gallon mark.  It’s not rocket science – no wait, that would be easy compared to Nuclear Reactor Physics.  The only drawback is that the newer diesels 2006+ have injector systems that are too wimpy for this fuel to act as a ‘drop in.’

    As for carbon footprints, the oil stock I use comes 5 miles away.  The oil stock we buy at the pump comes several hundred if not thousands by (probably non-bio)diesel truck.  My oil stock sequestered carbon before it was used in a restaurant’s business.  I use less than a kWh to run a 50 gallon batch.  Even with the emissions of my worst vehicle – 1997 Benz, I’m liking the sustainability of this big picture.  Energy Return on Investment (EROI) is through the roof, too.  Best of all, no tax dollars were needed for any of the research or SIMPLE equipment, just a little American initiative, and yet, still plenty of American skeptics.Go Old Navy!

  • JMin2020

    I could graciously just chalk the impediment of Bio Fuel Use and Production to political band standing; but I suspect it has more to do with a reluctance to let go of petroleum as a fuel source feedstock. This is an election year and another two term Presidency is on the line; so there is plenty of politicale motivation involved; but Isee the impediment of bio fuel production and use as an impediment to our National Progress. After all; one good disruption of the oil supplies in the Middle East would bring the price of oil and oil based fuels right back up to where any alledged expense of bio fuels would certainly seem quite livable. I applaud the currenrt Administrations use of the Defense Production Act. At least Bio Fuels have a high degree of relative predictability where availability and raw resources are concerned. Syngas produced from Landfill materials can go a long way to replacing jet fuel made from oil and there are countless options for liquid and gaseous fuels to be produced from bio mass; waste carbon dioxide and so forth.

  • The U.S. Congress has been subsidizing biomass crops to the tune of $6 Billion a year since 2005.  The Department of Energy has already spent more than $600 Million on biorefineries since 2010. The IRS has been granting millions in annual tax breaks.  The USDA has been giving out hundreds of millions in loan guarantees to the likes of Range Fuels that implode in high-profile bankruptcies.  Now the Administration is using the Department of Defense to funnel more subsidies. These refineries go out of business (or never start) as soon as the free money dries up. Google “ethanol bankruptcy” and the endless list will water your eyes. There are failed biorefineries for sale all over the country, yet a government $16 Trillion in the hole is spending taxpayer money to build more. Since 2007, the U.S. Military has purchased 1.3 million gallons of biofuels at an average price of $48 per gallon.  Biofuels are not just bad economics, they are bad thermodynamics.  As to the claim that biofuels offer superior performance, this is because of a process called hydrotreatment which adds fossil fuel hydrogen to make true hydrocarbons from bio-oils and alcohols.  Hydrotreating can also be done to fine tune petroleum fuels.  Refineries don’t do it because it adds only 4-7% increased performance for a doubling of the cost and rational consumers wouldn’t pay for it.  However, the U.S. Government is not a rational consumer since they are spending other people’s money.

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