News / USA

US Fighter Jet Powered by Plant Fuel

US Navy, commercial airlines study camelina-based biofuel

Multimedia

Audio

The US Navy is testing a fuel for its fighter jets that is 50 percent petroleum-based and 50 percent derived from a seed called camelina.
The US Navy is testing a fuel for its fighter jets that is 50 percent petroleum-based and 50 percent derived from a seed called camelina.

The roar of jet engines splits the air over the U.S. Navy's testing grounds in Patuxent River, Maryland, as an F-18 fighter plane takes to the skies. Powering this supersonic jet fighter is a fuel that is 50 percent petroleum-based and 50 percent derived from a seed called camelina.

Amid concerns about climate change, volatile oil prices and, most recently, a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Navy and the commercial aviation industry are testing biofuels derived from camelina and other sources as an alternative to crude oil.

Rick Kamin, heads of the Navy's alternative-fuel testing program, has nothing against petroleum.

"Petroleum is great," he says. "We've developed all our systems forever to operate on petroleum. The issue with petroleum is, importing the petroleum, price volatility of petroleum, and shipping a lot of our dollars to buy the petroleum overseas."

Kamin says domestically produced biofuels could help make the Navy's fuel supply more secure -- and less dependent on imported oil -- while helping farmers and workers at home.

Massage oil to jet fuel

Powering supersonic jets is just the latest use for this ancient oilseed.

"If you were a Roman senator, after a hard day at the Forum, you may have walked home and stopped in with your masseuse for a little relaxation and a good massage, and he may have used camelina oil as the lubricant," says

Scott Johnson, president of the biofuel company Sustainable Oils.

Johnson says in the 19th century camelina oil was a popular lamp fuel.

Today, Kamin says, it works just as well as petroleum fuel to power jet airplanes.

"Every test we've put these fuels into our systems, everything has looked no worse than petroleum and sometimes performed even better than our petroleum fuel," he says.

Chemically speaking, it's not surprising, says renewable fuels chief Jim Rekoske at refinery equipment maker Honeywell UOP, because the camelina-based fuel "is not that different from a diesel fuel or a jet fuel."

And fighter plane fuel is not that different from passenger plane fuel. Japan Airlines was one of several that successfully flight-tested biofuels last year.

High cost of petroleum

Recent spikes in oil prices are a big factor driving the interest in biofuels. The airlines still reeling from the 2008 spike in crude oil prices.

"I think with crude oil prices as high as they are, it incentivizes a lot of people to look for the alternative," says John Rau, head of fuels management for American Airlines. "When crude is at 100 dollars a barrel, it changes things pretty dramatically."

But environmental concerns are a factor, too. Burning fuel creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Growing plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.

Rekoske says the increasing interest in biofuels has created an opportunity to,"number one, extend our business into something that's very important for the environment, and number two, to extend it in an impactful and meaningful way."

In the next decade, Rekoske's goal is for up to one-third of all U.S. transportation fuels to be biofuels, including camelina oil.

Food vs. fuel

But Jim Bartis at the RAND Corporation is not convinced that growing camelina to replace crude oil is such a good idea. According to a study he co-authored at RAND, "Producing just one percent of the oil used in the United States would require 10 percent of all the crop land in the United States," he says. "All crop land. Not just crop land devoted to seed crops. That's a huge amount of displacement."

Displacing all that crop land would affect food production. And if camelina displaces wheat, for example, he says, "That means somewhere else in the world, someone's going to be clearing a forest or grassland so wheat can grow."

Clearing a forest releases large amounts of greenhouse gases that may cancel out the benefits of replacing petroleum.

Right now, the question is moot, because very few farmers grow camelina.

$15 per liter

And, says the Navy's Rick Kamen, "There are no full-scale production plants to make this type of fuel. So there needs to be a commercial investment."

Kamin says commercial investment would bring down the price. The Navy paid about $15 per liter to test camelina fuel, compared to about $1 per liter for petroleum fuel.

Camelina is just one candidate for the biofuel of the future. Others range from animal fats to algae. Honeywell UOP's Jim Rekoske says we'll need them all.

"Those can all provide, by themselves, only a small fraction. But in aggregate, they can now start to make, again, an impactful difference."

A difference that may help change what powers the Navy's fighters, as well as the American economy.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More