US AFRL focuses on biofuels
The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is playing a key role in the development and commercialisation of biofuels as an environmentally friendly alternative fuel source, the air force announced on 29 August.
Biofuels are produced from living matter such as animal fat or plant waste, as compared to fossil fuels produced through geological process. They are environment-friendly and renewable, and their development is helping expand military energy sources and improve reliability, while lowering dependence on foreign fuel sources.
James Neely, a program manager in the AFRL's DPA Title III program office, said that military services were directed to address biofuel production to mitigate vulnerabilities related to fuel prices. Current efforts focus on advancing domestic production capabilities through financial incentives and industry/government partnerships.
Neely said: 'We have unique authorities through Title III, allowing us to enter into partnerships with commercial industry to put a manufacturing capability in place in response to a specific Department of Defense (DoD) need for technology. Biofuels are determined as essential to national security; we are working to move the technology into the domestic industrial base, with the end goal of a consistent supply at a competitive cost.'
The biofuel programme enables the office to work with different companies for developing feedstock, acquiring equipment and helping firms develop business strategies for sustained biofuel production and distribution to the DoD and industry.
The programme's most recent success is the Bio-Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (BSPK) project, which saw the retrofit of an idle refinery in California to manufacture large-scale biofuel for military and industry use. The biofuel is being manufactured using a 'hydro-processed esters and fatty acids' process which blends non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes with hydrogen and a catalyst. The resulting fuel can blend in a 50-50 proportion with petroleum jet fuel, integrating into aircraft and other existing engine systems without modification.
The US Navy integrated BSPK biofuels for its Great Green Fleet launch in January 2016, deploying the first biofuel blend-propelled carrier strike group.
The air force has qualified biofuels for use in almost all of its equipment and weapons systems; and while it has purchased units for testing, fuller implementation depends strongly on cost and availability.
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