DoD Green Jet Fuel Tests
The U.S. Air Force annually uses about 2.5 billion gallons of fuel, resulting in the service's second highest annual operations and budgetary expense. The increasing costs of energy and reducing the dependence on foreign oil as well as increasing environmental concerns have led the USAF to develop an energy strategy based on three pillars: reduce demand, increase supply and change the energy use culture. To this end, USAF in particular, and DOD in general, is looking for cleaner, more efficient ways to fuel the military’s aircraft.
The investigation into alternative fuels was spearheaded by former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne in 2005 when he created an 11-member task force. Since then the Air Force has been looking at alternative solutions for powering its aircraft and performing a series of flight tests to integrate domestically produced, non-petroleum-based jet fuels into the Air Force's fuel supply.
The first of such flight occurred on September 19, 2006 at Edwards Air Force Base, California on B-52 Stratofortress, (or BUFF, Big Ugly Fat Fellow). The fuel tested was a 50/50 blend of traditional crude-oil based jet fuel (JP-8) and a synthetic liquid made from natural gas. Since then there have been several test flights on different aircraft types but we have seen an impetus this year.
USAF set target in its 2010 Energy Plan to certify all its aircraft to fly on alternative fuel blend by 2012 and to switch half of its continental jet fuel requirement to a blend of domestically sourced alternative fuels by 2016.
On 19 March 2010, representatives of the Defense Logistics Agency’s Defense Energy Support Center and the Air Transport Association of America signed a strategic alliance agreement in Washington, D.C. The alliance is hoped to help promoting widespread commercialization of environmentally friendly aviation fuels with less reliance on fossil fuels, and to advance the development and deployment of commercially viable and environmentally friendly alternative aviation fuels. The alliance directs the formation of three collaborative teams, with each team focused on specific developmental and marketing models of the alternative fuels goals.
On 25 March 2010 An A-10C Thunderbolt II ground-attack aircraft became the first aircraft to fly running on a new 50-50 blend of traditional JP-8 fuel and a biomass-derived hydrotreated renewable jet fuel during a test sortie from Eglin AFB, Fla. The fuel used for the demonstration was from the camelina plant, a weed-like plant similar to soybean and mustard that needs little to flourish and is not used as a food-source.
On 22 April 2010, the Navy demonstrated the 'Green Hornet,' an F/A-18 Super Hornet (Naval Aviation's largest fuel consumer ) powered by a 50/50 biofuel blend at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The 'Green Hornet' flight is considered to be an important step in the certification and ultimate operational use of biofuels by the Navy and Marine Corps. The feedstock for the biofuel to be tested is derived from the camelina sativa plant, which is a US-grown, renewable, non-food source. The objective of the test flight program is to confirm there is no difference in performance between the biofuel blend derived from the camelina plant and standard petroleum-based JP-5.
On 27 August2010 an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III took off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, all engines powered by a combination of traditional petroleum-based fuel (or JP-8), biofuel derived in part from animal fat (beef tallow) and synthetic fuel derived from coal. (C-17 conducts flight test with biofuel). The biofuel derived from beef tallow was procured from UOP, a Honeywell company. The synthetic fuel derived from coal using the Fischer-Tropsch method was procured from Sasol. The flight was a first for any Department of Defense aircraft where a 50 percent mix of JP-8 was blended with 25 percent renewable biofuel and 25 percent fuel derived from the Fischer-Tropsch process.
On 28 August 2010 March Air Reserve Base, California, made history by refueling an F-22 Raptor with a blended fuel mix (50 percent synthetic paraffinic kerosene fuel derived from coal by Fischer-Tropsch process, and 50 percent conventional JP-8), the same blend used to fuel its KC-135R (aerial refueling tanker, or flying gas station if you like). Both aircraft used only the same blend of fuel during the 2.5-hour sortie, which included two refuelings.
Commercial airlines are also looking for alternative sources of fuels to power aircrafts. On 22 September 2010, South African company Sasol, the world’s leading producer of synthetic fuels from coal and natural gas, flew the world’s first passenger aircraft exclusively using the company’s own-developed fully synthetic jet fuel. (Sasol takes to the skies with the world’s first fully synthetic jet fuel).
Even though these are good developments I still remain skeptical about the viability of alternative jet fuels.
Air Force Energy Program Policy Memorandum AFPM 10-1, states that by 2016, the USAF will be prepared to cost competitively acquire 50% of its domestic aviation fuel requirement via an alternative fuel blend in which the alternative component is derived from domestic sources and produced in a manner that is greener than fuels produced from conventional petroleum. So, how green are these green fuels really? How is current legislation compatible with producing synthetic fuel derived from coal and gas? Will there be a coal to liquid plant in the US? If not, what is the point of importing synfuel from South Africa and claim that USAF aircraft is powered by green fuel?
Note: U.S. Air Force, Air Force Energy Program Policy Memorandum, Air Force Policy Memorandum (AFPM) 10-1, (Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force, 19 December 2008).