Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thunderbirds fly on biofuel blend

The U.S. Air Force's Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, marked the DoD's latest green initiative as they burned bio-fuel at the Joint Services Open House on 20-21 May 2011. More than 3,000 gallons of bio-fuel was mixed with 3,000 gallons of JP-8 for use by the Thunderbirds for the 2011 Joint Service Open House.

The fuel was provided by Sustainable Oils, LLC, one of DLA Energy’s alternative fuel suppliers. Their product was blended with petroleum-derived fuel to obtain a 50/50 blend. The camelina was grown and harvested in Montana, and refined into renewable jet using technology from UOP LLC, a Honeywell company. Sustainable Oils has provided nearly 500,000 gallons of camelina-based HRJ to multiple branches of the US military for its certification programs, making it the most heavily tested alternative fuel feedstock.

UOP LLC had announced on 20 May 2011 that Honeywell Green Jet Fuel™ made from Camelina would power two Air Force F-16 aircraft as part of a Thunderbirds demonstration at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.  (Honeywell Green Jet Fuel™ Powers U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Demonstration)

Camelina Sativa plant requires very little water or nitrogen and doesn’t compete with food crops. It is often used in rotation with wheat crops to help regenerate soil and thrives in un-irrigated fields where other crops won’t grow. 
 Its eeds yield high quantities of oil (35-38% of the seeds is oil) which are exceptionally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Honeywell UOP produced 400,000 gallons of Green Jet Fuel for alternative fuels testing and certification. The final fuel delivery under this program took place in early May 2011. The Air Force held its first demonstration flight with Honeywell Green Jet Fuel in an A-10 Thunderbolt II in March 2010. It expects to achieve fleet-wide certification by 2013.

Honeywell UOP was the prime contractor or subcontractor on DLA-E contracts to produce almost 600,000 gallons of renewable jet fuel for the U.S. Navy and Air Force in October 2009. Working with feedstock partners Sustainable Oils, Solazyme and Cargill, Honeywell UOP process technology was used to produce 190,000 gallons of fuel for the Navy and 400,000 gallons for the Air Force from animal fats, algae and camelina.

According to the Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin ConatonRight now, biomass fuel is about 10 times the cost of JP-8, the current military aviation jet fuel in use.

Questioning the certification process

In accordance with the Secretary of the US Air Force's Assured Fuels Initiative, all Air Force aircraft was supposed to be tested and certified to fly on a domestically-produced synthetic fuel blend by early 2011. This was the PR used by the Department of the Airforce since 2007.  

In the following years this message was modified from early 2011 to fiscal 2011. “The entire fleet is scheduled to be certified by fiscal 2011, but not every airframe will need to undergo the same sets of rigorous tests.”

Then the goal became “to test and certify all USAF aircraft against the 50/50 synthetic fuel blend by 2011.”

Now we are told that “fleetwide certification is on track for completion in 2013.”

Air Force should clarify this issue. What is the time frame to test or certify what? Do we now have a distinction between synthetic fuel blend and biofuel fuel blend? If yes, what do USAF officials mean with alternative fuels as far as certification program is concerned?

(The Air Force has, to date, tested and certified biofuel as a 50-percent blend with regular jet fuel in the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the F-15 Eagle, the C-17 Globemaster III, and the F-22 Raptor.)


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