28 Nov 2011

US armed forces lead the way for biofuels

As defence budgets are tightened, the search for a cost-effective alternative to oil continues. Militaries worldwide are facing a new age of austerity in which only positive innovation can triumph.

Fuel consumption is a top priority for our Armed Forces in the UK and work has begun to investigate how to meet demand without compromising performance. The environmental impact of the carbon emissions from our current fuel sources is also a high priority for the UK government.  The MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support agency invited contractors in February to put forward ideas for how remote bases could switch to renewable energy sources.

It is vital that militaries wean themselves off fossil fuel dependency to ensure high-quality running in the future.

The US Navy has taken a massive step towards the goal of relying on renewable energy by successfully concluding the largest demonstration of alternative fuel this month in California.

The US Department of Defense’s energy consumption alone tops all but 35 countries at 375,000 barrels of oil per day. The military also remains the single largest US consumer of energy.

Approximately 20,000 gallons of a 50-50 blend of algae-derived, hydro-processed algal oil and petroleum F-76 were supplied to the Self Defense Test Ship on 17 November.

The success of the project was clear for Mike Wolfe, Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme Division underway project officer, who said there was no discernible difference in the ship’s operations compared to using traditional fuel.

There are other benefits to using algae, such as a decrease in the need for vulnerable supply convoys which could be replaced by indigenous sources at home and abroad, allowing for more sustainable infrastructures. These alternative fuels could potentially create lighter and more fuel efficient forces.

Another breakthrough came in October when the US Navy flew their MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on biofuel – a blend of JP-5 aviation fuel and plant-based camelinal.

This kind fuel of blend can cut carbon dioxide output by 75% when compared to conventional aviation fuel, according to the US Navy.

Hawker Beechcraft Corporation also announced this month that all of its turbine-powered aircraft are approved to use biofuels.

If these kinds of fuels become the standard for military use, we could see their application in daily civilian life too in everything from solar-charged mobile phones to biofuel-powered cars.