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Tactical Biofuels - Military Power

How Alternative Fuels Will Change The Farmer's Field-And The Battlefield

Jason Thompson
Oct 1, 2009
Photographers: Jason Thompson, Courtesy Of CROPP Cooperative, Sustainable Oils, Utah Biodiesel Supply, Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Bradley Evans, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gabriel S. Weber
Photo 2/11   |   tatical Biofuels crew Member
One thing the U.S. military is known for is standardization. Now that it is involved in biofuels, look for biodiesel to become more consistent and available. With its large resources of manpower and money, the advancement of renewable fuels will accelerate much faster than if only the small hobbyist was involved. The mining, agricultural, and commercial airline industries are also working to get biofuels off the ground. Heck, even the oil companies are jumping on board. Exxon Mobil recently invested $600 million dollars in algae-based biofuels.
The United States Department of Defense created the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1958 after the Soviet Union successfully launched the Sputnik satellite. Since then, DARPA's job has been to make sure we don't fall behind in military technology. In August of 2007, DARPA's Program Manager for Biofuels Dr. Doug Kirkpatrick explained: "Throughout history, energy has been the limiting factor in all military operations, whether it was Roman armies foraging for supplies, or General George S. Patton running out of fuel as he dashed across France, or the long military buildup in Desert Storm. The situation today is no different. Most of the convoys on the road in Iraq are delivering fuel and batteries. These are arguably our most exposed targets, and the toll in lives and material is huge. We're tied down in an endless web of logistics. Seventy percent of our strategic logistics requirements is moving bulk fluids, primarily fuel."
This biofuels program currently under development is "focused on developing JP-8 that is indistinguishable from petroleum-based JP-8, but that is 100 percent biofuel, and not a blend with a petroleum-based fuel."
The airlines are also interested in biofuels because it is a technology ready to go into existing planes with no modifications needed. In January of 2009, Sustainable Oils provided Japan Airlines with oil mostly produced from camelina. The fuel was blended with Jet-A by Honeywell's Universal Oil Products (UOP) division using a secret hydro-processing technology. The Boeing 747-300 aircraft ran a 50 percent blend in one of its Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines. The flight was successful according to the engineers, chemists, and pilots involved with the demonstration. As stated earlier, the fuel was mostly camelina-based. Following its source, Diesel Power went to the Midwest to get a better understanding of how the agricultural industry is linked to biofuels.
Growing Fuel
Both Rudolf Diesel and Henry Ford were vocal supporters of farmer-grown biofuels. They believed homegrown energy would provide local jobs and keep transportation costs down. Today, the United States imports almost 60 percent of the 20 million barrels of oil we use every day to make life, as we know it, possible. In small towns across the country, main streets are becoming vacant and gas stations are usually the only places to find signs of life. Imagine what would happen if the money being poured into fuel stations stayed in the community. That is one of the promises of biofuels. In order to make it happen, farmers are going to need a variety of quality crops, the right infrastructure to harvest them, and a path to get the fuel to the market.
Why Camelina?
Camelina is making quite a buzz in the energy industry, and the reason is it's cheap and available today. The feedstock (general name for any crop being used for biofuels) makes up 85 percent of the total cost of fuel, so getting it down to the right price is key. Camelina grows on land where other crops can't, requires little input costs (water, fertilizer, and cultivation), and is harvested with a traditional combine. Some see a downside to camelina, since it has a high iodine number (155 to 175). This number is found by adding iodine to a sample of biodiesel, and measuring how much of it absorbs into the double bonds. As a general rule, more iodine absorption equals less stability and more NOx. For a comparison, coconut oil's iodine number is 10. Still, new advances in diesel engines, biodiesel refining techniques, and genetically-altered seeds could help alleviate this situation.
Food and Fuel In One Crop
Camelina also serves as an excellent rotation crop for food-producing plants. Studies have shown that after a season of camelina, the next year's wheat yields increased. With this plant not only do you get fuel, you get food. The high protein feed meal contains vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acids. The FDA recently approved higher percentages of camelina meal acceptable for feeding broiler chickens. It is already fed to beef cattle and hogs. Since camelina does not necessarily interfere with food production, it is known as a second-generation biofuel. According to the CROPP Cooperative, "Planting as little as 10 percent of your tillable land base with an oilseed crop can produce a large percentage of your farm's total fuel and protein demand. For instance, our research shows it is possible for a 50-cow dairy to produce 70 percent of its fuel needs and more than half its annual protein needs on 15 to 18 acres."
Biofuel As a Business
Sustainable Oils and Great Plains Oil and Exploration Company have a different business plan when it comes to growing camelina. Instead of the farmers growing and refining the oil themselves, they sell the seed yield to the company. Both companies work with farmers in order to help get the crop started and continue researching once it is in the field. Both biofuel companies said camelina has many good things going for it, but it was not the single answer. Instead farmers need an arsenal of crops in order to be flexible and competitive.
Department of Defense Fuel Facts
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates stated the Department of Defense is, "probably the largest single user of petroleum products in the world...Every time the price of oil goes up by one dollar per barrel, it costs us (the taxpayers) about $130 million..."
DARPA's biofuel program consists of three contractors. Here are the contract amounts and feedstocks being explored:
General Electric Global Research
$3.1 million, camelina and canola oil
UOP, A Honeywell Company
$6.2 million, soy and coconut oils and algae
The University of North Dakota Energy and the Environment Research Center
$4.7 million, cuphea, coconut, and soy
The Whale Oil Myth
In the article "Biodiesel From Algae" found in the September 2008 issue of Diesel Power, we stated the creation of Standard Oil saved the whales. Turns out whale oil had a tougher competitor, and it was called camphene. Camphene is made from high-proof ethyl alcohol, turpentine, and a little bit of camphor oil to mask the smell. This biofuel cost 50 cents per gallon in 1850. Whale oil was $1.30 to $2.50 per gallon, plus the alcohol burned cleaner. Many early pioneers placed camphene burners on their old whale oil lamps, which resulted in explosions. Another interesting fact about alcohol is the first internal combustion engine built in the United States ran on this renewable fuel. The builder was Samuel Morey and the year was 1826. Henry Ford once famously remarked, "There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years." Checking this statement, one acre of land can produce 39,100 pounds of potatoes. You can get 40 gallons of alcohol from a ton of potatoes so that equals 782 gallons per acre. Looks like Ford was exaggerating a little for effect.
10 Things You Should Know About Camelina Sativa
1. It's been grown in Europe for more than 3,000 years
2. Spring or winter annual (You can plant the seeds in the winter and have the plants come up in the early spring. This way a two-crop season is possible.)
3. Sometimes called Gold of Pleasure
4. Grows 1 to 3 feet tall
5. Ready to harvest in 85 to 100 days
6. Only requires 10 inches of rain per year
7. Yields 700 to 2,200 pounds of seed per acre
8. Yields 60 to 100 gallons of oil per acre
9. Yields 900 to 1,600 pounds of meal per acre
10. No cultivation is needed. Since you don't have to plow the land to get camelina started, the field gets a rest-and so does the tractor.


Utah Biodiesel Supply
Arkansas Bio-Fuels Enterprises LLC
CROPP Cooperative
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Great Plains Oil and Exploration Company
Montana State University
Sustainable Oils
(712) 551-7918
United States Department of Agriculture


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