Department of Defense and NASA Look to Fuel Jets with Biofuels
July 18, 2007
Both the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are currently funding efforts to explore the use of biofuels for jets. Syntroleum is providing the DOD with 500 gallons of a new renewable jet fuel derived entirely from fats supplied by Tyson Foods, Inc. The fuel will be used for research, development, and performance testing in military jet turbines. Syntroleum recently formed Dynamic Fuels LLC, a joint venture with Tyson Foods, to produce synthetic fuels from animal fats, greases, and vegetable oils. The companies plan to build a plant in the Southwest that will begin production in 2010 with the capacity to produce 75 million gallons of fuel per year. According to Syntroleum, the U.S. Air Force plans to certify all its aircraft to run on alternative fuels by 2010 and wants 50% of its fuel to come from domestic alternative sources by 2016. The most likely sources for such domestic alternative fuels are either biomass or coal. See the Syntroleum press releases on the joint venture and the DOD project.
While Syntroleum is focused on animal fat, a Honeywell subsidiary called UOP LLC intends to produce jet fuel using oils extracted from plants or algae. UOP develops process technology for the refining industry, and the company's technology is geared toward producing feedstocks that can be used in existing refineries. In late June, UOP was awarded $6.7 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop and commercialize a process to produce military jet fuel, known as JP-8, from biomass oils. UOP will work with DOE's Sandia National Laboratories and others to develop the process by the end of next year. UOP has already developed a new process to convert vegetable oils into diesel fuel and plans to build a facility in Italy by 2009. See the UOP press release (PDF 32 KB). Download Adobe Reader.
As DOD works to develop the biofuels, NASA's efforts are directed more toward their use. Reaction Design was selected by NASA in late June to develop software models that simulate the operation of jet engines when fueled with a range of alternative fuels, including biofuels. The company has expertise in modeling combustion and will work with experimental data to create detailed chemical kinetics models for the fuels, which is a critical step in tweaking the chemical components of the fuels to enhance their performance. The models could also be employed to develop new jet engines that can burn the fuels cleanly and efficiently. See the Reaction Design press release.