US Air Force wants biofuel switch

2011-07-20 09:30

Washington - The US Air Force is ready to switch to biofuels to help power its warplanes but the price of alternative fuels remains too high, military officials said.

Anxious to reduce its reliance on oil, the Air Force has approved the use of synthetic fuels for nearly all its aircraft and expects to get the green light for biofuels by the end of 2012, Undersecretary Erin Conaton said.

"The big thing we're trying to do is to send a clear message to industry that the Air Force wants to be in a position to purchase biofuels and to use that operationally for our fleet," Conaton said.

"But in order to do that, we need industry to be able to produce in the quantities we need at a cost-competitive price."

Biofuels cost a prohibitive $35 a gallon (3.8l), about 10 times the price of conventional jet fuel, or JP-8.


"The biofuels that are available now are just nowhere near the cost of what we can buy JP-8 for," Conaton said.

With the biofuels industry still in need of more private investment, the US military has joined forces with commercial airlines "to try to send the right message" to the alternative fuels industry, she said.

"We're ready whenever they're ready to produce it."

Tests have shown fighter aircraft and cargo planes can fly on a blend of biofuels and traditional jet fuel with no sacrifice in speed or performance, she said.

Conaton spoke as biofuels industry representatives and military officials gathered for an energy conference on Tuesday in Washington where alternative fuels will feature high on the agenda.

US officials see the country's dependence on foreign oil as a national security risk and an increasing financial burden.

To promote energy "security", the Air Force has set a goal to have half of its domestic fuel needs drawn from alternative sources by 2016.

The biofuels tested on military aircraft, known as hydro processed renewable jet fuel, are derived from the camelina plant, animal fat and various waste oils.

The military and commercial airlines are also testing "alcohol-to-jet" fuel produced from cellulosic feedstock, including switch grass, grains and sugar.

Conaton said the Air Force had plans to test the ATJ fuel on A-10 ground attack aircraft.

Following the Air Force's lead, the Navy and Army are also working to promote the use of alternative fuels in ships, ground vehicles and bases, with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus arguing that the military can help generate enough demand to lower the price of biofuels.

Mabus told NPR earlier this month that "if we establish the market, the price is going to begin to come down".

The Air Force's consumption of fuel is equivalent to a major commercial airline, or about 10 billion litres a year.

  • GT - 2011-07-20 10:23

    nothing like going green on fuel so that you can balance your carbon footprint whilst you distribute depleted uranium through the 30mm canon. LOL WE COME IN PEACE - greenpeace muddafker

  • Illuminated - 2011-07-20 10:27

    yea we wouldnt want to damage the planet while murdering millions of people in the name of oil and money... so thoughtful of you

  • Shrieker - 2011-07-20 10:50

    It will not be long before the current oil prices will shoot above the cost of bio-fuels anyway, making bio-fuels more economically viable. They really have nothing to worry about as it will happen. Just as long as you are prepared and can use bio-fuels.

  • jansteyn4 - 2011-07-20 10:54

    Millions are starving while they convert food to fuel. Now they want to use the fuel to bomb more innocents. Disgusting.

  • herman.erasmus - 2011-07-20 11:51

    for good or bad , we live in a world dominated by america , would you all rather live in world dominted by the middle east or china ?

      Illuminated - 2011-07-20 14:33

      well America has 1000 military bases all over the world... they have the most nuclear weapons in the world (over 10 000), they're the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in times of war, the have the most nuclear capable warships, they have the most aircraft carriers, they have the most influence over media, finance, the UN, politics and probably the country the most invloved in every possible war.. think of a time where America wasnt involved in war over the last 200 years... TRUST me America is the threat not china and not the middle east...

  • ZACKIE - 2011-07-20 14:03

    so it's ok to drop bombs on people so long u do it in a green way

      Capt. Murphy - 2011-07-20 14:35

      Well actually if you think about it properly dropping bombs on people is the "green" thing to do. more bombs = less people. less people = slower consumption of natural resources. USAF going green? They've been having it!

  • Werner Lubbe - 2011-07-20 14:51

    The clean-green war-machine. This goes to show that we are indeed living in a world ruled by sick and horrible minds. If war is still the only answer to peace for th human-race then what are we still here for. Global slavery... This is the world where building for the future.

  • Ray Allen - 2011-07-20 18:06

    The cost of bio-fuels is directly related to the cost of feed stock, not the equipment to make it. Feed stock is measured in tons to the acre or bushels to the acre. Regular feed stocks can produce approx. 250 gal. Our feed stock produces 6,000 gal to the acre every third year, and we do not need farm land to grow it. Polluted soils work just as well. And it grows back after harvest. Our Estimated costs to produce a gal. of JP-8 would be less than 3.00 USD without subsidies. Someone should contact us at Emerald Energy from the Air Force.

      Arturo - 2011-07-30 19:19

      What feedstock do you use?

  • Scott Miller - 2011-08-16 16:03

    Is the Air Force comfortable conceding the pilot seat on #biofuels to the Navy? I am sure Sec. Navy Mabus is happy to take the joystick! Fundamentally, it's a question of long-term logistics planning rather than short term economics. Besides - what is the cost to the nation for an another oil conflict?

  • Scott Miller - 2011-08-16 16:20

    Where would we be if the short term economics of A-bomb R&D had discouraged its development? Compared to that program, curing the military's logistics vulnerability (not to mention the nation's oil addiction) by stimulating the industry and creating a new paradigm of jobs is not only a bargain, but a militarily justifiable expense. It can also decrease diplomatic friction once each nation becomes more energy self-reliant.

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