Monday, December 13, 2010

Navy's Key Achievements in Biofuels

At the 2009 Navy Energy Forum, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus committed the Navy to a goal of decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels and outlined five ambitious energy targets to increase the efficiency of ships and aircraft and reduce the Navy’s dependency on fossil fuels. To reach these goals the Navy aims to certify alternative fuels for use in its aircraft and ships.

Although I have serious doubts that the Navy will achieve all these targets literally, it is on the right track.

Key Navy achievements thus far include testing of biofuel mixture level from 5%-30% on a prototype Light Armored Vehicle, the flight of an F/A-18 aircraft on a 50/50 blend of camelina-based biofuel and JP-5 in April 2010, demonstration of an algae-based biofuel aboard both a rigid-hull inflatable boat and a riverine command boat in October 2010, and test flight of an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter in November 2010 on a 50/50 blend of JP-5 and camelina-based biofuel.

This post gives an overview of these tests.

Green Hornet

(Source: U.S. Navy)

In October 2009 Navy engineers  conducted the initial tests on an F404 F/A-18 jet engine to determine if it could run on JP-5 derived from a renewable resource. (Initial test proves Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet can fly on ‘green fuel’) The aim was to come up with a biofuel powered jet engine for F/A-18, so-called “Green Hornet”. The fuel used in the tests was created from the camelina plant, which is in the same family of plants as the mustard seed and rapeseed. On 22 April 2010, operational test was performed successfully in a supersonic flight performed by using a 50/50 blend of petroleum-based and camelina-based naval aviation fuel. (see NAVAIR video)
Light Armored Vehicle
In early 2010, Marine Corps Systems Command conducted tests ranging in biofuel mixture level from 5%-30% on a prototype Light Armored Vehicle (or LAV), eight-wheeled amphibious infantry fighting vehicle.
Riverine Command Boat
(source: U.S. Navy)

On 22 October 2010 the Navy conducted demonstration of an experimental ship (Riverine Command Boat, or RCB-X) powered by a 50-50 blend of an algae-derived biofuel and traditional NATO F-76 fuel at Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Va.
This prototype fuel is called a "drop in replacement" to standard shipboard fuel, known in industry as hydro-processed renewable diesel (or HR-D), does not include water (as opposed to biofuel) which is incompatible for shipboard fuel systems and does not have the limited serviceable life (typically six months) of biofuels. The fuel used in the demonstration was provided to the Navy[1] for testing and certification through one of DLA Energy’s research and development projects called Alternative Energy from Organic Sources.
Sea Hawk Helicopter
On 18 November 2010, the Navy flew an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, one of the Navy's newest helicopters, on a 50/50 blend of JP-5 and camelina-based biofuel t Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. (Navy Tests New Fuel in Sea Hawk Helicopter). See NAVAIR video.
Results from tests indicated the aircraft performed as expected through its full flight envelope with no degradation of capability. Testing will continue across additional aircraft models in 2011 with a target of approving the 50/50 biofuel blend for use in the Navy ships and aircraft by early 2012.

The question nobody asks
I understand that the Navy is committed to improving energy security and environmental stewardship by reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Biofuels is the prime candidate to lessen the dependence on conventional oil and hence move closer to a "greener" Navy. But why nobody asks a crucial question: at what cost?  This will be the subject of my next post.



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