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Biofuels included in US Navy fuel procurement

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The US Energy Information Administration has highlighted that the Department of Defense (DoD) recently released its annual procurement for bulk fuels to be delivered to its facilities in the eastern and inland US and Gulf Coast. For the first time, this procurement requests military-specification diesel duel and jet fuel that are blended with biofuels.

The US Navy’s interest in biofuels is part of its goals to generate 50% of its energy from alternative sources by 2020: nuclear energy, electricity from renewable sources, and biofuels. The Navy currently sources approximately 17% of its energy supplies from renewable and nuclear sources. No biofuels are currently included in this percentage.

According to the EIA, the Navy is solely interested in those fuels that can be used as direct replacements for petroleum based gasoline and distillate fuels, also known as drop-in fuels. These fuels require no modification or operational changes to distribution infrastructure, aircraft or ships. Although biodiesel blends readily with diesel fuel or jet fuel, and is compatible with most diesel engines, it is not a drop-in fuel.

Certain properties limit biodiesel blends from being used in some applications: potential fuel system clogging and poor performance at low temperatures prevent its use in jet fuel for civilian or military use, and water seperation problems prevent its use as a marine diesel fuel. Drop-in biofuels are available today on a limited commercial basis, and operable US production capacity is approximately 210 million gal./y.

The EIA explains that drop-in biofuels tend to be more expensive than petroleum fuels. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits DoD from paying prices for alternative fuels that are higher than it would pay for traditional fuels. To address these economic issues, the Navy and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the Farm-to-Fleet program in December 2013. The program intends to increase the production of drop-in biofuels in the short term to allow producers to improve yields and lower feedstock costs through experience, and to achieve economics competitiveness by 2020.

For this year’s procurements, there are two acceptable source of drop-in biofuels: hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) and Fischer-Tropsch (FT) liquids. HEFA biofuels are produced through the reaction of vegetable oil or animal fat with hydrogen to yield hydrocarbons that are nearly identical to those found in petroleum based diesel fuel or jet fuel. FT liquids are hydrocarbons produced from coal, natural gas, or biomass based synthesis gas and are suitable for blending into diesel fuel and jet fuel.

EIA project that, in the near term,  HEFA fuels are likely to be used in much greater quantities than FT liquids. Unlike with HEFA, the US has no commercial scale production of FT fuels. Other nations produce FT liquids, but their production is more often based on coal and natural gas, not biomass. The US therefore does not import large volumes of FT liquids, because coal and natural gas based fuels do not qualify for credit under the RFS or the California Low Carbon Fuels Standard.

Adapted from a press release by Emma McAleavey.

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