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  • A-10 Flies Biofuel, DoD Wants it Now
    Posted by Graham Warwick 9:07 PM on Mar 25, 2010

    For a field that remained unchanged for decades, the pace of development in the aviation fuels business has become almost bewildering. It's not if, it's a matter of how soon alternative fuels can be available in sufficient quantities to make a dent in the Pentagon's dependence on foreign oil.

    Jump-starting the domestic production industry is the problem, as this is not a good time for fuel producers to be looking to raise the billions of dollars in investment needed to build commercial-scale synthetic-fuel plants - just on the promise that, if they build them, the DoD (and the airlines) will come.

    So the Pentagon is trying a few different ways to "prime the pump". One is a strategic alliance between its fuel buyer, the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), and the Air Transport Association under which the airlines and the military will look for ways to align or combine their alternative-fuel purchasing needs to make a better business case for producers.

    Another is outlined in a new Air Force presolicition notice, and it is to award Honeywell company UOP a contract to modify an existing biofuel conversion facility to produce "bio-synthetic paraffinic kerosene", or BSPK - the biofuel equivalent of petroleum-based jet fuel. UOP is a leader in refinery process technology and behind many of the recent advances in biofuel development.

    According to the notice, UOP would be awarded an 18-month contract under Title III of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to modify the facility and demonstrate a minimum output of 2,000 gallons a day, with the capacity to produce at least 5,000 gallons a day. The plant would be "feedstock flexible", meaning that different types of biomass could be used to produce the same BSPK jet fuel.

    The DPA Title III program (pdf) has been in place since the Korean War as a way to bolster the US defense industrial base in critical areas, and seems a logical vehicle to use to get alternative-fuels production off the starting grid.

    Meanwhile, the testing and certification of alternative fuels across the DoD's aircraft fleet is continuing apace. Today (Mar. 25), an Air Force A-10 conducted the first flight of an aircraft fueled solely with a blend of bio-derived and conventional jet fuel. The 90-min. flight from Eglin AFB used a 50:50 blend of camelina-based hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuel and JP-8. Flights with the F-15, F-22 and C-17 will follow in the summer.

    The Navy is getting in on the act and plans to fly its F/A-18 "Green Hornet" on a 50:50 blend of algae-based HRJ and conventional jet fuel. The flight from NAS Patuxent River is scheduled for Apr. 22 - which just happens to be Earth Day...

    Tags: ar99, biofuel, USAF

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