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 Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid