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Navy To Test Biofuels In F-18A Super Hornets

Tue, 08/18/2009 - 6:53am

Biofuels DigestIn Maryland, the Naval Air Systems Command is preparing to test biofuels in an F/A-18 Super Hornet by next summer, according to Aero News. The Navy has issued an RFP for JP-5 jet fuel made from biomass, and has stipulated that it be made from non-food feedstocks, pointing the RFP towards algae, jatropha and camelina.

The initial RFP is for 40,000 gallons of fuel and will commence with ground tests in December or January on the Super Hornet’s F414 engine, followed by flight tests.

The contract is expected to be awarded this month. The fuel requirement is for a drop-in replacement fuel, and is part of the Navy’s focus on developing alternative fuel sources for energy independence and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. According to reports, lab work will consume 15000 gallons, ground tests will consume 16,500 gallons and the flight tests will consume 22,000 gallons.

The Boeing Super Hornet is a carrier-based fighter aircraft, carries air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons. The Super Hornet first flew in 1995. Based on its fuel consumption rates, the tests will cover at least 15,000 miles of flight testing (on an unblended basis).

Military interest in advanced biofuels stems from strategic goals - having a mobile, independent source of fuels for military applications. However, the military is also supporting the overall government goals of reducing fuel usage and associated greenhouse gas emissions. The US military is the world’s largest consumer of fuel at a rate of more than 340,000 barrels per day and $13.6 billion per year.  The United States Air Force has set a goal of producing 50 percent of its fuels by alternative means by 2016.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has said that it is seeking processes that use limited sources of external energy, that are adaptable to a range or blend of feedstock crop oils, and that produce process by-products that have ancillary manufacturing or industrial value. Current biodiesel fuels are 25 percent lower in energy density than JP-8 and exhibit unacceptable cold- flow features at the lower extreme of the required JP-8 operating temperature range (minus 50 degrees F).

DARPA has contracted with groups led by SAIC and General Atomics in algae-to-energy R&D. DARPA has warned that it may not be able to use commercial aviation biofuels because of the performance characteristics, such as performance in cold conditions.

The military’s most interesting flight test to date took place last year, when a US Air Force B-1 bomber mission, code named Dark 33, became the first jet to reach supersonic speeds using synthetic jet fuel. The test flight was carried out at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

In May, the CNA Military Advisory Group, composed of a top-level board of recently retired admirals and generals, will release today the results of a year-long study on the national security risks and military impacts of U.S. dependence on fossil fuel, the current electrical grid and the impact of climate change.

General Chuck Wald USAF  (Ret.), CNA Military Advisory Board, Chair, former Deputy Commander, Headquarters U.S. European will lead a call this morning outling the results, joned by General Ronald Keys, USAF (Ret.), Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret.), Admiral John Nathman, USN (Ret.),  General Gordan Sullivan, USA (Ret.), former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, and former Space Shuttle commander and NREL Director Vice Admiral Richard Truly, USN (Ret.), among others.

In Massachusetts last April, the US Defense Department awarded $1.9 million to UMass for a research project. The Amherst-based research team led by George Huber will develop new, end-to-end processes that lead from forest and agricultural residues to jet fuel range alkanes and aromatics that can be refined into jet fuel.

Although most research in cellulosic conversion of biomass has focused on ethanol, the military is seeking drop-in fuels that have higher energy density than ethanol as well as superior performance characteristics.

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