WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio A B-52 bomber running on fuel made from canola oil?
It could happen sooner than you think.
"Plant oils, like canola, and animal fats are the next target for fuel certification for the Air Force, Navy and commercial aviation," said Tim Edwards, a senior chemical engineer with the Fuels and Energy Branch of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale AFB in Louisiana are the only bases with B-52s and North Dakota is No. 1 in producing canola along with more than a dozen other crops.
Classes of alternative fuels
"Alternative fuels are being certified as 'classes' based on processing and fuel composition/properties, rather than feedstock," Edwards said.
Ground broken for new fuels research facility
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio Officials at Wright-Patterson AFB broke ground Nov. 9 for a $2.5 million Assured Aerospace Fuels Research Facility.
The facility, a project of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson, will allow the Air Force to conduct research designed to help produce alternative fuels for military aircraft.
The 4,000-square-foot facility will be capable of producing 15 to 25 gallons a day of alternative aviation fuel for research by the Laboratory's Propulsion Directorate, according to a news release from the 88th Wing Public Affairs Office at Wright-Patterson.
The state-of-the-art equipment will be capable of generating research quantities of Air Force specification and near-specification aviation turbine fuel using the Fischer-Tropsch process and other alternative fuel technologies.
A unique, world-class research facility, it will play an essential role in helping attain clean, sustainable, domestically-produced aviation fuels for the Air Force and the nation, the news release said.
Construction is scheduled to be completed in September 2010.
Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke is the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson. Bedke was at Minot Air Force Base from July 1994 to August 1996 as deputy commander and then commander of the 5th Operations Group.
100 percent renewable jet fuel receives Popular Science ward
GRAND FORKS A 100 percent renewable jet fuel developed by the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, and the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has won the Best of What's New Award from Popular Science Magazine in the aviation and space category. The awards are announced in the December issue of Popular Science, which is on stands now.
"We are truly honored and excited to be recognized by Popular Science," said Gerald Groenewold, EERC director. "This is a tremendous example of the type of practical, cutting-edge technologies the EERC is commercializing on a continual basis, as well as a perfect example of our ability to partner with private industry and government entities worldwide.
The EERC's fuel was created from completely renewable crop oils, such as canola and soybeans. Developed through a variety of existing contracts, the fuel was vigorously tested at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Air Force Research Laboratory and meets all of the screening criteria for jet propellent-8 (JP-8) aviation fuel, a petroleum-based fuel widely used by the U.S. military. One major advantage of the EERC's renewable fuel is that the fuel can be tailored to meet a wide variety of mission-specific requirements.
In July, EERC's renewable JP-8 was also successfully flown in a rocket in the Mojave Desert, outside of San Diego. The fuel burn was so successful that the rocket approached Mach 1 (the speed of sound) and reached an altitude of about 20,000 feet. The rocket has previously been tested with standard Jet-A fuel and rocket propellant-1 (RP-1) kerosene, for which the rocket was originally designed.
The EERC is the first enterprise in the world to produce 100 percent renewable jet fuel and diesel from crop oils through its Advanced Tactical Fuels Program, with support from government and private entities. The EERC is working with several commercial entities to commercialize the technology, which would produce billions of dollars worth of alternative fuels annually.
More information about the Best of What's New Awards and the other award winners is available at (www.popsci.com).
He said the first class of alternative fuels was the Fischer-Tropsch "synthetic paraffinic kerosene" (SPK) fuel produced from coal, natural gas or biomass as a feedstock to the Fischer-Tropsch process.
The Fischer-Tropsch technology converts a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide derived from coal, methane or biomass to liquid fuels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The Energy Department refers to the coal-based process as coal-to-liquids. The process was discovered by German scientists and used to make fuels during World War II.
"The B-52 tested a 50/50 blend of that fuel with JP-8 at Minot in early 2007," Edwards said. JP-8 stands for Jet Propellant 8 and is a jet fuel.
Edwards said SPK was approved in a commercial fuel specification (ASTM D7566) in August of this year.
"The second class of fuels is termed 'hydrotreated renewable jet' ('HRJ', or sometimes 'bio-SPK')," Edwards said.
The Air Force recently signed a contract to purchase through the Defense Energy Support Center 400,000 gallons of HRJ, Edwards said.
"The feedstock for HRJ is any plant oil or animal fat, so this class would include canola oil," Edwards said.
"The particular fuels the AF purchased came from tallow and camelina, but certification would include canola as a feedstock (and algae, Salicornia, jatropha, etc. any plant oil)," Edwards said.
He said cost, availability and environmental impact will drive which particular feedstock is used to produce HRJ for commercial and Department of Defense use after certification.
Edwards said the Federal Aviation Administration/commercial aviation and Defense Department are working toward an HRJ approval, perhaps as early as 2011.
"The Air Force (and Navy and Army) plan to use the various alternative fuels in aircraft, ground vehicles, power-generating equipment, etc., etc. all of the current applications of jet fuel," Edwards said.
The B-52 bomber
He said the B-52 can use any alternative fuel as soon as the fuel is certified for use and available.
"One of the goals of the alternative fuel program is to demonstrate that there is a market for the alternative fuels to enable manufacturers to get financing to build plants. At least one plant to produce HRJ and/or the corresponding diesel fuel has broken ground. Several plants to produce SPK (from coal) have been announced," Edwards said.
Working with others
The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson has worked with numerous other organizations (government, fuel producers, aviation industry and universities) on alternative fuels, Edwards said.
Specifically, he said the Air Force Research Laboratory supported the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's evaluation of the Energy & Environmental Research Center's "biojet" fuel over the past few years and EERC's HRJ fuel is part of the HRJ certification process."
DARP is the central research and development organization for the Defense Department. EERC is located at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.
There are three classes of biomass that are potential feedstocks for aviation biofuels, Edwards said.
Plant oils/animal fats (for HRJ).
Sugars/starches (such as corn and sugar cane).
Ligno-cellulosic feedstocks (switchgrass, woody biomass, etc.).
"Currently, sugars are used to produce ethanol for gasoline, but AFRL has tested several types of hydrocarbon jet fuels produced from this feedstock," Edwards said.
"The woody biomass/cellulosic feedstocks can also produce aviation biofuels through processes such as pyrolysis AFRL has tested a few potential jet fuels produced this way," he said.
He said the Air Force has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify potentially-available energy crops to support jet fuel production.
Coal as a feedstock
Coal as a feedstock to the Fischer-Tropsch process to produce SPK is approved for commercial aviation use in ASTM D7566 and is nearing fleetwide certification in the Air Force, Edwards said.
He said the F-16 is the latest aircraft to fly on the SPK blend, preceded by the B-52, C-17, B-1, F-15, F-22, KC-135, C-130 and C-5.
"So, it is essentially approved, but whether or not coal is actually developed as a feedstock for synthetic aviation fuel depends on economic and environmental factors that are not fully resolved at present," Edwards said.
Air Force fuel use
The Air Force used 2.4 billion gallons of jet fuel in 2008 at a cost of $7.7 billion, Edwards said. He said the price changed several times during the year, so dividing the numbers to get a dollar per gallon would just be an average.
"The Air Force is the largest user of liquid fuels in the DoD but the 2.4 billion gallons a year consumption only qualifies the AF as a large airline commercial aviation use is much larger than DoD use," Edwards said.
Other military branches
Recently, he said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced at the Navy Energy Forum a very aggressive Navy energy program that includes alternative fuels.
Edwards said the program at Wright-Patterson does not work directly with Minot AFB. But he said, "The B-52 Program Office at Tinker AFB developed the F-T SPK development plan and worked with Edwards AFB and Minot AFB to carry out the plans."
Tinker AFB is at Oklahoma City, Okla., and Edwards AFB is at Lancaster, Calif.