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US Air Force investing heavily in biofuel

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

President Barack Obama is leading a new drive to introduce more advanced biofuels into the military usage. Speaking at Andrews Air Force base he said, “Our military leaders recognise the security imperative of increasing the use of alternative fuels, decreasing energy use, reducing reliance on imported oil and making ourselves more energy-efficient.” He went further and called for 50% or more alternative fuels to be used in navy planes, ships and vehicles within the next decade.

The US Air Force has already carried out a test flight with an A10C Thunderbolt II using a 50:50 blend of conventional fuel and biofuel. The 90 minute test flight marked the first time an aircraft has been running all its engines on biofuel. The Marine Corp. is even testing blended biofuel in a tank.

A US Navy F-18 fighter, called the ‘Green Hornet’ is scheduled to fly on Earth Day running on a similar 50:50 blend of biofuel and will hopefully be the first biofuel powered aircraft to break the sound barrier.

The fuel being used is based on Camelina, also known as ‘false flax’. This crop has been cultivated for centuries as an oilseed and has a number of advantages over other biofuel crops. For starters it is not a food crop and does not need much water or fertiliser, it can also grow on marginal land unsuited for food crops. Meal left over from the crop after the oil has been extracted may also have another use as animal feed.

Critically, in line with US attempts to reduce carbon emission, Camelina based biofuel creates up to 80% less carbon emissions than conventional jet fuel.

Sustainable Oils supplied the Camelina based fuel used for the Army and Navy test-runs. Shell also has plans to get involved in the biofuels industry as a profitability booster. President Obama revealed that this year alone the Defence department invested US$ 2.7 billion to improve energy efficiency. President Obama stated, “I know that we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that’s going to foster new energy – new industries, create millions of new jobs, protect our planet and help us become more energy independent”

Analysts at Biomass Advisors have predicted that up to 1 billion gallons of Camelina biofuel per year will be produced for the civil and military aviation industry by 2025, creating up to 25 000 new jobs in an industry that could be worth up to US$ 5.5 billion.

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