US Navy sends out request for 40,000 gallons of jet biofuel for ground and aircraft flight testing
A sample of JP-5 being taken in a JP-5 pump room aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (photo: US Navy)
Wed 26 Aug 2009 – The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) fuels team has asked for 40,000 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel from bio-based feedstocks in a request for proposal (RFP) issued by the Defense Energy Support Center. The NAVAIR team will first conduct laboratory and rig tests at its Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Maryland. This will be followed by static engine tests on an F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft’s General Electric F414 engine at the engine manufacturer’s facility in Lynn, Mass. The team is looking to conduct flight tests by next spring or summer. The biofuel will be mixed in a 50/50 blend with conventional petroleum-derived naval-specification JP-5 jet fuel.
NAVAIR estimates its initial laboratory analyses and rig testing will consume 1,500 gallons; the static engine tests, 16,500 gallons; and the flight tests, 22,000 gallons. A contract is expected to be signed shortly. NAVAIR said the tests were part of a larger effort to test and certify promising biofuels in support of the US Navy’s energy strategy to enhance energy security and environmental stewardship, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our major goal is a drop-in replacement for the Navy’s petroleum-based fuels,” said Rick Kamin, US Navy Fuels Lead. “The field won’t know the difference.”
He said potential fuels received from the RFP may include those made from oils produced by feedstocks such as camelina, jatropha and algae. “We won’t know for sure what we’re going to get until the procurement process is completed.”
Kamin emphasized that the Navy will not be producing any biofuels itself and all fuel for military purposes is purchased by the Defense Energy Support Center. “We’re responsible for fuel specification requirements. Our main responsibility is to test and certify the alternative fuels for inclusion in our specifications,” he said.
The fuels team will initially apply three categories of standard tests to the fuels received in response to the RFP: analytical chemistry – using instruments such as a mass spectrometer to determine chemical composition and structure; ‘wet chemistry’ – determining the fuels’ response in specific chemical reactions; and rig test properties such as water separability, to determine how the fuels will react in aircraft and in conditions typical of Navy operating conditions, which include long-term storage.
“Storage stability is a unique military and Navy requirement not required in the commercial world,” Kamin noted.
“We’re trying to certify by families, to come up with a spec for an approved class of feedstocks, such as oil shale, petroleum, hydrotreated renewable or coal,” he said. The specifications of each family will be determined initially through the full battery of chemical analysis, physical properties, static engine tests and flight tests.
The Navy plans to have test and certification completed on the most promising alternative fuel candidates no later than 2013, Kamin said. As each candidate is approved for use, it will be added to the Navy’s JP-5 (aircraft) and F-76 (ship propulsion fuel) specifications. Once in the specification, the Defense Energy Support Center will buy the fuel to meet Navy requirements from the lowest-cost provider. Actual usage in the fleet will depend on industry production capability.
Although similar to commercial jet fuels (Jet A and Jet A-1), military fuels are highly specialized products and are developed for very specific applications. JP-5 was introduced to reduce the risk of fire on aircraft carriers and, therefore, has a higher flash point – a minimum of 60 °C.
Last year, British Airways and Rolls-Royce put out a joint tender for 60,000 litres (15,850 US gallons) of jet biofuel in order to conduct ground engine testing (see story) but were unsuccessful at the time in finding a supplier who could fulfil the amount required.