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Recent tests showed warplanes can fly on bio-fuels
WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) – The Pentagon is working hard to promote development of biomass fuels that could power future fighter jets and other warplanes, but defense officials say it could take years to get a full-fledged industry on its feet.
Top U.S. defense officials and executives from the petroleum, alternative fuels and renewable energy sectors are meeting outside Washington this week to address new technology developments and initiatives such as the Pentagon’s work on developing biofuels to power military aircraft.
The long-term goal is to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign crude oil, said Air Force Colonel Francis Rechner, director of operations of the Defense Energy Support Center, run by the Pentagon’s main logistics agency.
Rechner cited the March flight of an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane, powered by a mix of biomass and jet fuel, and the flight of the Navy’s “Green Hornet,” a Boeing Co (BA.N) F/A-18 fighter jet powered a blend of jet fuel and a biofuel made of camelina, a hardy U.S. plant.
Both aircraft performed well using the new bio-based fuels, he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Mark Iden, Rechner’s deputy, said his agency signed an agreement in March with the Air Transport Association, the main industry group for U.S. commercial airlines, to help promote widespread commercialization of environmentally friendly aviation fuels and become less reliant on petroleum.
Together the airline industry and the U.S. military use more than 1.5 million barrels of jet fuel a day.
The challenge now was to promote construction of facilities that could produce large quantities of biofuels using algae, camelina and other plants, Iden said.
He said there was a lot of research and development under way, but it could take years to create a full-fledged industry. “We are literally developing it from scratch,” Iden said, adding he expected the Pentagon to issue an initial solicitation for bids from industry within a year or two.
Iden said the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had spurred interest in the Pentagon’s work on alternative fuels and underscored the importance of alternative fuels.
But the military would rely on petroleum for a long time, he said. “You’re never going to eliminate petroleum.”
Rechner said the Obama administration supported the Pentagon’s efforts, and President Barack Obama in December nominated Sharon Burke, vice president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, to become the Pentagon’s new director of operational energy plans and programs.
That post was aimed at coordinating various energy efficiency and alternative energy programs across the various military services, a good step in the right direction, but Burke’s nomination was being held up by lawmakers, he said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
Air New Zealand and Boeing are secretly working to create the world’s first green aviation fuel, made of wild algae. The fuel is essentially derived from bacterial pond scum created through the photosynthesis of sunlight and carbon dioxide on nutrient-rich water sources such as sewage ponds. The company providing the biofuel is Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation. If the project pans out the small and relatively new New Zealand company could lead the world in environmentally sustainable aviation fuel.
Compact Contractors of America have developed a Dry Process Algae Bio Jet Fuel for ground power turbine or air frames. They are currently seeking governmental entry to either direct testing or further development to meet the AirForce and Naval flight demands.
Air New Zealand may be the first to test these new algae fuels on their engine while normal aviation fuel would drive the other engine. Fuel is held in cells on the aircraft that can be directed to a specific engine.
None of the parties involved will talk about the joint venture development because of confidentiality agreements but whispers about the project were circulating at the roll-out of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Seattle in the US last week. However CCA is open and ready to accept new testing platforms.
Local Marlborough media reported a visit by Boeing to Aquaflow earlier this year and Boeing has stated publicly since then that it believes algae is the airline fuel of the future.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Fuels announced in April it was working with Boeing to demonstrate biofuel in a 747-400. The focus is on testing algae-derived jet fuel, especially its freezing point.
CCA states their fuel actually works better the colder it is. The differences in algae fuel will help the aviation industry in dry or liquid forms.
Boeing’s Dave Daggett was reported this year as saying algae ponds with a total of 34,000 square kilometers could produce enough fuel to reduce the net CO2 footprint for all of aviation to zero.
Until now the relatively new Blenheim company’s focus has been on biodiesel for cars, trucks, buses and boats. CCA has aimed it sights squarely on military drone applications and ground power for in theater production and utilization.
English Environment Minister David Parker drew public attention to the company in December when he test drove a Land Rover around that was powered by Aquaflow’s blend of algae biofuel and diesel (5% algae fuel and 95% conventional fuel) just a year after it was developed. CCA has to date has live fired tested it’s fuel in non military jet engines but is planning a test with military grade turbine jet engines in the near future.