High hopes for biodiesel

Tuesday - 4/7/2009, 9:09am EDT

WFED's Tom Temin

As heard on sister-station WTOP

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By Tom Temin
FederalNewsRadio

Could the military start using grease from the nation's fast food joints to power military aircraft in the future? The Defense Department is taking s serious look at the use of bio-fuels for mission critical equipment.

Q: Does this mean a B-52 could run on the fat left over from a fry-o-later?

A: Well, not quite, but the general idea is for biofuels to partially offset what for the military is a 144-million barrel a year habit. In fact, the famed Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, is pushing research into sources of biofuel. It has started to fund research into converting "yellow grease oil" or plant-based "cellulosic and algae sources" into JP8 jet fuel. By cellulosic and algae sources, DARPA means corn husks and seeds in addition to good old fashioned pond scum. DARPA's Strategic Technology Office also thinks the resulting bio-fuel could also be used in ground vehicles and non-nuclear ships.

Q: People are already using bio fuels in cars, why is this new research needed?

A: The military has much higher standards for its fuels. A jet engine may run for 18 or more hours at a time, and in temperatures ranging from 20 degrees below zero to 140 degrees above. There is much less room for formulation error and impurities than with that old, converted Rabbit.

There have been some tests already in aviation. Last year, Virgin Atlantic airlines did a test flight of a 747, but only one of the four engines was using bio fuel. The plane can safely fly with only three engines. So far, none of the known processes can produce bio fuel in the quantities that would be needed by the military.

For more information, see the American Forces Press Service story, DOD program aims to create new biodiesel fuel

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