Biojet fuel from Sustainable Oils used in supersonic flight test

  • 17-May-2010 03:29 EDT
Navy Green Hornet biofuel.jpg

Research, development, and increased use of alternative fuels are U.S. Navy priorities. Shown is the Green Hornet in a biojet fuel test run on April 22. (U.S. Navy, Kelly Schindler)

Seattle-based Sustainable Oils, a producer of renewable, low-carbon, domestically produced camelina-based fuels, supplied the biojet fuel that successfully powered an Earth Day test flight of the U.S. Navy's F/A-18 “Green Hornet” aircraft.

Taking place at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Patuxent River, MD, the flight was the first to demonstrate the performance of a 50-50 blend of camelina-based biojet fuel and traditional petroleum-based jet fuel at supersonic speeds, according to the company. Use of the camelina-based fuel, which was produced in partnership with the UOP unit of Honeywell using its renewable jet fuel process technology, marks a significant milestone in the certification and operational use of camelina-based biofuels in military aircraft.

"Our mission today and for the rest of the flight tests is to confirm that the fuel makes no difference in performance across the Super Hornet's entire flight envelope, from subsonic to supersonic operations," said Mark Swierczek, Naval Air Systems Command propulsion flight test engineer, after the flight test. "Preliminary results show there was no difference in engine ops attributable to the biofuel. Engine performance is normal and as expected."

The success of the Earth Day flight demonstrates that camelina-based jet fuel meets the quality and performance requirements that these aircraft demand, said Tom Todaro, CEO of Sustainable Oils. “We look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. military, as well as commercial airlines, to provide the next generation of domestically produced aviation biofuels that create revenue and jobs in rural areas, decrease greenhouse-gas emissions, and reduce our nation's dependence on foreign energy sources.”

According to the U.S. Navy, the Green Hornet performed as engineers expected, successfully completing all aspects of the test flight. Yesterday's flight won the praise of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who has provided ongoing leadership in the Navy's focus on renewable energy and attended the test flight.

"The alternative-fuels test program is a significant milestone in the certification and ultimate operational use of biofuels by the Navy and U.S. Marine Corps," said Mabus. “It's important to emphasize ... the Navy's commitment to reducing dependence on foreign oil as well as safeguarding our environment. Our Navy, alongside industry, the other services, and federal agency partners, will continue to be an early adopter of alternative energy sources."

These flight tests are part of an extensive test and evaluation process that started last fall, said Rick Kamin, the Navy's Fuels team lead. "The fuel's chemical and physical properties were first analyzed in the lab, followed by component and engine performance testing, and now in a series of flight tests covering the entire flight envelope of the Super Hornet—including supersonic operations."

According to Kamin, final approval and certification for the camelina-based biofuel could take an additional six to nine months from the April 22 flight test. The Earth Day flight test is one of 15 planned test flights requiring approximately 23 flight-hours to complete, starting in mid-April and completing by mid-June. The Earth Day flight lasted about 45 min.

In September 2009, Sustainable Oils was awarded a contract by the Defense Energy Support Center to supply camelina-based jet fuel to the U.S. Navy. The contract was for 100,000 gal of HRJ-8 beginning in 2009 and going through 2010, and it included an option to purchase an additional 100,000 gal between June 2010 and December 2012.

According to Sustainable Oils, camelina is the most readily available renewable fuel feedstock that meets the U.S. military's criteria, with the ability to scale up acreage to meet demand. The camelina for the contract, including the Green Hornet test flight, was primarily grown in 2009 and harvested in September 2009 by farmers in Montana. The company also has several field trials in Washington State.

Sustainable Oils also provided the camelina-based jet fuel that powered the historic flight of a U.S. Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt II on March 25, which flew from Florida's Eglin Air Force Base on a 50-50 blend of camelina-based jet fuel and traditional jet fuel. The 90-min flight marked the first time that any aircraft has been powered by conventional and biomass-based fuel in all engines.

Camelina was selected for initial testing by the military because it does not compete with food crops, has been proven to greatly reduce carbon emissions, and already was successfully tested in a Japan Airlines commercial test flight in January 2009. In addition, camelina has naturally high oil content and requires less fertilizer and herbicides. It is an excellent rotation crop with wheat, and it can also grow on marginal land.

A life-cycle analysis of jet fuel created from camelina, conducted at Michigan Tech University in conjunction with UOP and Sustainable Oils, found that the renewable fuel reduces carbon emissions by 80% compared to petroleum jet fuel.

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