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Navy Continues Investment into Biofuels

The U.S. military has paid for a lot of research and small scale production of biofuels. They have already flown aircraft and sailed ships powered by them. This research while it has received some criticism in Congress has also received funding and support and will continue in the near term. It only makes sense for the U.S. military to develop alternate sources of fuel and biofuel has proved capable although at a price.

In this vein the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA awarded Albemarle Corp. (ALB) a contract to manufacture biojet fuel utilizing a feedstock from another company Cobalt Technologies. No terms of the contract were announced but the goal is to produce reasonable quantities of fuel and get it certified for use in aircraft. This is a continuation of a joint effort by Cobalt and the Navy to develop a feedstock of n-butanol from woody biomass.

Albemarle will produce the fuel at their Louisiana based processing facility.

The butanol being made by Cobalt also has many other industrial uses including making paints, coatings and plastics. The ability of Albemarle to produce large quantities of butanol based on biomass rather then traditional sources such as fossil fuels.

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RAND Pours Water on Military Biofuel

Like other parts of the U.S. government and entities across the globe the Defense Department has sponsored development and research into the development of biofuels to replace oil based fuel. These have included tests by the Air Force and Navy flying aircraft using fuel made from biomass.

The services have also invested into research for different ways of making fuel. This includes algae based fuel as well as looking at plants as a source. The work has been very preliminary and involves very little money so far.

If you assume that the world’s supply of oil is going to decline sometime in the near future this investment makes sense. There has to be alternate sources developed and the U.S. military as one of the largest users of oil in the world should be preparing for that situation. The military has also argued that alternative fuel makes sense as it might reduce the need to transport fuel across rough or inhospitable terrain.

Now the RAND Copropration has released a report on their study of the future of biofuel and its use by the military. They were not positive. They feel that the supply chain may not be decreased as the fuel no matter the composition must be moved to where the troops are. They also state that large scale production of the fuel is not economical or practical in the near future.

Supporters are countering the report by saying that more research is needed and that it may not be viable to replace all gasoline usage with biofuel but reductions in use will help in the long run. They also say that not enough research has been done yet to figure out production sources and amount that ultimately could be made.

Certainly there are issues with the amount of available agricultural production that could be used to make fuel. The use of corn based ethanol in the U.S. is already putting pressure on food prices and farmers.

Unfortunately if the U.S. wants to reduce its dependence on foriegn oil without trying to increase production in the U.S. it will be this kind of research and development that will help in the long run. Any alternative fuel use can benefit the military by reducing demand or preserving stocks for critical needs.

The full report may be read here.

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U.S. Defense Department Continues Quest for Alternate Power Sources

The fighting by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq the last nine years has relied heavily on the ubiquitous battery. Soldiers and vehicles now carry much more electronic equipment from night vision goggles to radios and data links. These need electrical power either from generators or batteries. The generators require fuel to run such as gasoline or diesel and all of this has to be transported.

The military has been investing in alternate sources from biofuels based on algae to fuel cells and wearable power systems. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has invested in some of these including sponsoring the wearable power contest last year. Now word comes that DARPA has awarded SAIC (SAIC) a contract to work on photovoltaic systems. The contract has a value of over $4 million if all options are exercised.

The goal is for a demonstration of low cost, lightweight and portable solar cells which will be used to generate electricity. These may then lead to further development into systems for military use. The contract will not address just design and effectiveness but also the fabrication and manufacture of the systems. The goal is to have solar cells that can be fitted into equipment carried by soldiers as well on vehicles.

The U.S. military is certainly considering a future with limited supplies of petroleum and this is extending to all types and ideas of power generation. This contract is just one example.

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