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Air Force Certifying F-16s to Use Biofuels

by John Reed on March 1, 2012

In case you haven’t seen this, the Air Force is flying F-16s on biofuel derived from the camelina plant. Yup, years after the air service certified most of its aviation fleet to fly on coal-derived synthetic fuel (stuff that was pioneered by the Nazis and apartheid-era South African governments because no one liked them and the world cut off their oil supplies) it is now certifying its jets to fly on something a little more environmentally friendly.

(The Navy has been working to get its ships and planes certified to run on biofuels for a while now, too.)

Its plan to certify its aviation fleet to run biofuel is very similar to its previous effort with coal-based fuels. The F-16s are being checked out to fly on a 50/50 blend of camelina oil and regular JP-8 jet fuel. The service has long said that it wants to use its status as the government’s biggest energy buyer t drive the market for alternative fuels that are produced in the United States. This would reduce the military’s reliance on foreign oil, service officials have argued.

Here’s what the service has to say about the effort.

In a joint effort by Airmen from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Airmen from the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, the F-16 Fight Falcon is currently undergoing a field service evaluation of biofuel.

As the largest consumer of energy in the Defense Department and $8 billion spent on fuel in fiscal 2011, Air Force officials are working toward making the fleet a little “greener” by researching, testing and ultimately implementing the use of alternative fuels.

Although other airframes, such as the C-17 Globemaster III, have been certified to use biofuel for unrestricted operations, this is the first evaluation of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Two F-16s from the 180th FW fleet have been designated to test the 50/50 blend of Jet Propellant-8 petroleum and Hydroprocessed Renewable Jet fuel derived from the camelina plant. Camelina is essentially a weed that grows throughout the United States and requires very little horticulture.

The Ohio Air Guard F-16s (shown above) have been flying on biofuel since December and, as expected, there has been almost no noticeable difference in the airplanes’ performance running biofuels versus using pure jet fuel.

The jets have been flying with the blend since mid-December and will continue until the test sample is depleted.

“Our ability to exercise and use this stuff on a small scale or case-by-case basis makes us ideally suited to test the fuel,” said Col. William Gieze, the 180th Mission Support Group commander.

The staff at AFRL worked with commercial fuel manufacturers to develop a blend that would meet Air Force specifications. Considerations such as the flash and freeze points of the fuel were some of the major factors when determining the specifications for the F-16.

“Manufacturers are making alternative fuels for both the military and commercial customers,” said Dr. Tim Edwards, a senior chemical engineer for the AFRL fuels division. “Typically, they’ll send samples of their fuel, and we’ll evaluate and say, ‘Yes, you’re on the right track, this could be a jet fuel.’ When they get to the point where they can make large enough quantities, we’ll hand them over them off to the Alternative Fuels Certification office.”

The Air Force goal, by 2016, is to have half of the fuel that is purchased domestically to be at least a 50/50 blend of conventional and alternative fuel, Edwards said.

Another goal for the researchers and developers was to make the transition as seamless as possible. To date, there has been no additional training, equipment or maintenance required to begin using the fuel.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm

If economies of scale can be found to keep the price point manageable, this could be a major first step. We're the DOD taking a long view, one would hope that government owned biofuel production centers were established. This would insulate the DOD from price gauging.


Chris March 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm

So JP-8 costs 3.13 a gallon, and Camelina oil costs 126.00 a gallon, sounds like the Air Force needs to learn math. But hey, you and I are paying for it, so who cares right? As long as obama gets to satisfy the enviromentalists, he is happy.


sje March 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I agree that the price disparity is a problem. OTOH
1. The rationale is to have an alternative if we are denied access to oil (or at least it is hard to get). This is a real possibility with the middle east right now.
2. The cost of any new technology is typically much higher than established technologies for a variety of reasons, but can be reduced when the market gets established. However, CAN camellina ever compete with crude? Is it like corn based ethanol, which uses more energy than it generates?


Hale March 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Don't we get more oil from Canada than we do from any non-allied country in the Mid East?


SJE March 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Yes, we do. But
1. We have to provide fuel to wherever the aircraft is located. Getting it from the USA is another weakness in our supply chain, which could be a problem in an actual war. Its good to know that we can get alternatives from somewhere nearer.
2. The USA currently gets most of its oil from the USA or Canada. But things change, including the possibility that refineries or pipelines are attacked.

Its like a bayonet on a rifle: you hope you won't run out of bullets, but if you do you will want the bayonet.


Jacob March 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Last I heard energy independence is still something desirable, amirite?


Chris March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Not at that price dude!


Mastro March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I just don't get it- say the Middle East cuts us off and we are at war-

we just sign a deal with Canada/Mexico/Venezuala that they send their oil to us-

Gotta be cheaper than $126 / gallon.


Guest March 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Noo to buying oil from chavez!!!!!!!!!


blight_ March 1, 2012 at 11:57 pm

It's that or…well, not many alternatives.

Mastro March 2, 2012 at 12:17 am

Chavez has more tumors than a pipe fitter- don't worry about him.

Vaporhead March 2, 2012 at 7:29 am

False. We would be stupid to be completely independant. What will happen when we run out of our own fuel? I think we should use up other countries supplies first, that way they would be coming to us for supplies. We could make bank.


ben March 2, 2012 at 7:00 am

you got that $126 figure off of a google shopping search hit for a BS health food site…

Even food grade oil costs less than $10/gallon when you buy it wholesale, and that stuff can go straight into any diesel or turbine engine without any additional processing.

You can't really compare the ludicrously inefficient corn ethanol fuel process with the production of bio-diesel.

With the Bio-diesel, you burn fuel to grow the plants, and a little bit more to crush them to release the oil, and run the result through a filter.
Since diesel engines were originally designed to run on vegetable oil and jet engines were designed to run on diesel fuel, the result can be used to extend our petroleum stocks.

With Ethanol, you have to heat the mash while it ferments, and then you have to burn even more fuel to distill the alcohol multiple times to increase purity to the point where it will run in a gasoline engine.

The difference is that deep fryer oil gives you 5 units of fuel for every 3 you spend making it. While the white lightning only returns 3 units for every 5 spent to distill it.


Jayson March 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Uh post immediately deleted for supporting this initiative and to spread it out to all arms of the military in the US and Canada. As mass production for biofuels picks up the costs drop dramatically.

AND the trickle down effect as most initiatives from the military into civilian use will reap more benefits for everyone.

Now is the time to really broaden the scope of biofuel use.


DC2 Jennings March 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Sorry but you lost me at "stuff that was pioneered by the Nazis and apartheid-era South African governments because no one liked them and the world cut off their oil supplies". Because no one liked them? Really? I guess the Jews and the blacks deserved what they were getting.



Robert E. Wilson March 6, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Like U Said, "Sorry(yes you are SORRY) but you lost me at…" you're Damn Right You're Lost! Your dead master/Hitler & apartheid South Africa Could Not Purchase Fuel So The Developed Biofuels. DUH!


Guest May 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Nearly all living standards statistics of the New South Africa has show depreciation. The world was so against apartheid, but the economic, political statistics show those Afrikaners knew what the 3rd world really was about… their prediction that the economy everything would deteriorate became true: it has deteriorated and have fallen back many places in rank from what was once the world's 15th largest economy and 9th largest stock exchange under apartheid. Not to mention one of the worlds best and most experienced armies that fought 50 years against a Soviet invasion with soldiers experienced in battlefields in many African countries in big wars with millions that died in those wars.


Lance March 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm

It be easier sense the F-16 is going away first to the F-35 to use this on the F-15 and F-22 first and multi engines would keep the bird safer if it doesn't like bio fuels.


RCDC March 1, 2012 at 4:03 pm

We should explore with algae oil, algae farm and algae plant . They grow fast on land, ponds and can transform into liquid oil for both commercial land transportation and jet fuel.


RCDC March 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm
orly? March 2, 2012 at 9:47 am

1. Supply/demand
2. The source plant is a WEED. If you grow it, if it flourishes, if it multiplies to the point its in every american's backyard, believe it or not. THE PRICE GOES DOWN.

You seriously don't think having this WEED as abundant as dandelions and harvested around the country is possible?


retired462 March 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Simple math —– Trade a bushel of corn (or wheat) to any country that will trade 5 barrels of oil for it.


SJE March 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm

We already do that. While we are scared of dependence on foreign oil, the Middle East is scared of its dependence on foreign food. They have crop programs that are even more inefficient that our "replacement fuel" programs


Chris March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Thats awesome, and all related corn food products will skyroccket! Why do you think corn chips are now almost $6 a bag. Making fuel from food is a stupid idea


Mastro March 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Did you read the fine print that they are probably getting a $$$$$$ grant from Obama?

A year from now that company will be kaput-the process will have failed- but the execs will all have second homes with German cars in the driveways.


blight_ March 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Propped up by evil government subsidies too.


ben March 2, 2012 at 7:04 am

the idea is to drain everyone else dry, use our massive overproduction of food to make biofuel, and then be the last people in the world who can manufacture plastic thanks to our untouched petroleum supply.

(the USA is THE largest exporter of food on earth. We grow enough food to feed 2 billion people while our population is less than 1/5 of that.)


SJE March 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm

In a war, that source of oil would be attacked. Also, fuel needs to get to the planes. If you are based on Diego Garcia, how to get the fuel there? Getting a supply of biofuel from India or Australia might be a good option.


SJE March 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

The ethanol subsidies are a bipartisan effort. A pox on both their houses


TMB March 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Great in theory, except the farmers decided it was more profitable to sell their corn for fuel instead of food and the price of corn-based foodstuffs shot up.


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