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MH 60S Seahawk test flight using algae-derived biofuel
Helicopter flew on 50/50 blend of jet fuel and algae-based biofuel

Biofuels are being studied and tested in commercial and military aviation widely. Biofuels currently in development are designed as drop in replacements for existing jet fuels with no modifications needed to engines or other systems.

The biofuels, however, do have to be mixed with regular aviation fuels. Generally, the biofuel is mixed 50/50 with normal jet fuel. The USAF has been testing jet aircraft with biofuels and certified its first jet, the Globemaster III to operate on up to 50% biofuel.

The U.S. Navy and Solazyme have announced that a successful test flight of a MH 60S Seahawk helicopter running on a 50/50 blend of algae-based biofuel.

The fuel mixture used in the test is known as Solajet HRJ-5 Jet fuel. Solazyme claims that this is the first military aircraft in history to fly on an algal-based jet fuel. The company also notes that the flight preceded the ASTM preliminary approval for military aircraft to operate on biofuels from algae and other renewable sources.

“We applaud ASTM International and the ATA and CAAFI for their efforts to advance the world’s newest and most sustainable fuels for aviation.  The aviation industry has demonstrated a strong leadership position in fuel supply diversification and sustainability, and today’s announcement is a major step in its efforts to commercialize advanced low-carbon biofuels,” said Jonathan Wolfson, CEO, Solazyme.

“Solazyme is honored to be working with the US Navy and DLA-Energy in driving forward the testing and certification process for advanced biofuels. The successful flight demonstration of the Seahawk helicopter on a 50/50 blend of SolajetHRJ-5 and petroleum-derived jet fuel marks a significant milestone in this process, and reinforces the Navy’s commitment to securing our nation’s energy supply.”

Solazyme is the only company currently providing the Navy with biofuel. The company has previously conducted tests of its Soladiesel fuel in Navy Riverine Command Boat demonstrations.

Biofuels are part of the process the Pentagon wants to consider with regards to energy consumption with weapon systems.

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By Motoman on 6/23/2011 1:50:56 PM , Rating: 2
I kind of want to be excited about this, but I'm not positive about the awesomeness of the algae process yet. Like it's cost-effectiveness and environmental impact. Just about anything is better than fuel-from-food though...and at least algae doesn't directly use arable soil.

IIRC though isn't a typical problem with this stuff that it has a relatively high gel point? Ergo they have to mix it with natural fuel to keep it fluid throughout the aircraft's range of operation?

RE: Mmmm...
By headbox on 6/23/2011 1:56:31 PM , Rating: 5
The military is more about making engines that can operate on multiple types of fuel for survival, not to please the Sierra Club. The M1A tank can run on gas, diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, etc.

RE: Mmmm...
By Souka on 6/23/2011 2:57:01 PM , Rating: 2
Is this the bio-fuel that costs $424 per gallon? or since it's a jet, even more expensive?

RE: Mmmm...
By Solandri on 6/23/2011 4:31:19 PM , Rating: 2
Probably is, but bear in mind that if it's like most military contracts, the $424 per gallon includes R&D costs amortized over the amount of fuel delivered. Once the R&D is completed and the costs recouped (which is the whole point of doing this), you're left with only the material and operating costs which should be substantially lower per gallon. In fact the first comment on the article you've linked to says basically the same thing.

And as noted above, the military is doing this for fuel-flexibility, not out of some green commitment. Once they've developed the capability, if it remains economically unfeasible, they'll probably just shelve it. Until things change which drives fuel prices up and makes it economically feasible.

RE: Mmmm...
By Bad-Karma on 6/24/2011 4:43:21 AM , Rating: 2
Great, it's a clean bio fuel. But what I want to know is how much power can be developed from the engines when using it. Most Bio fuels have considerably less energy per unit than petroleum derivatives.

In helicopters this is extremely important as it affects your maximum operating altitude. One of the reasons the Ch-46/47 & 53s have seen a resurgence of use is that they are one of the few helicopters that can get to some of the higher elevations in Afghanistan. For Cargo and troops that is vital. The smaller birds like the UH-60s just can't reach those elevations with much of a load, sometimes if at all.

For standard seaborne ops this shouldn't be much of a factor for the Navy. But more and more the logistics trains in the field are used on an availability not service specific basis.

RE: Mmmm...
By SandmanWN on 6/25/2011 10:42:00 PM , Rating: 2
But what I want to know is how much power can be developed from the engines when using it. Most Bio fuels have considerably less energy per unit than petroleum derivatives.

Not exactly the right kind of thinking. We aren't talking passenger cars here. It doesn't matter if it has less energy per unit. The characteristics that make a fuel useful is how it releases that energy. The higher alcohol content gives you hotter/faster burn which leads to more power in a lot of engine configurations. It requires more fuel to maintain that level but life is full of trade-offs. You get about 10% more power but requires generally about 10% more fuel. If the percentages work out in this situation then they'll find a way to use it.

RE: Mmmm...
By Bad-Karma on 6/29/2011 12:00:53 AM , Rating: 2
Helicopters don't have an after burner can. Full military power is just that, the max amount of fuel you can throw into the turbines. Your fuel pumps aren't changed out because you have a different fuel grade to work with. The engines are engineered to develop max power on the standard fuel for that engine (usually JP-8 in the case of US military).

All US Military aircraft have a fuel acceptability chart in their technical orders. You'll see 5-10 different accepted variations. Along with each type comes acceptable engine tolerance levels. If you can't develop the power then that impacts your speed and altitude.

From my 22 years experience being a USAF crew dog, on seven different aircraft, I can't remember any fuel offering better performance than JP-4/8 that didn't destroy the engine after more than a few minutes of run time.

RE: Mmmm...
By HotPlasma on 6/24/2011 7:23:29 AM , Rating: 1
Diesel, kerosene and jet fuel are the same thing. Just saying.

RE: Mmmm...
By rika13 on 6/24/2011 8:11:07 AM , Rating: 3
# of carbons per molecule (from wikipedia)

Diesel: 8-21
Kerosene: 6-16
Gasoline: 4-14
Jet fuel: 5-16 depends on specfic fuel

Avgas has lower and more uniform vapor pressure, has lead, which is banned in mogas, and the ethanol in most mogas is not approved for use in aviation engines.

RE: Mmmm...
By JediJeb on 6/24/2011 5:42:33 PM , Rating: 2
Correct. At our lab we do testing of soil and water samples in areas where fuels are spilled and there is a difference between diesel, kerosene, mineral spirits, ect. Each fuel has its own "finger print" used to identify it. If the sample is pristine enough you can even differentiate the brand sometimes.

RE: Mmmm...
By Bad-Karma on 6/29/2011 12:10:21 AM , Rating: 2
Those fuels are similar enough that most jets can burn them with little or no trouble.

When I used to be assigned to B-52 we put kerosene and diesel through them on a few occasions when we were on remote airfields that didn't have jet fuel. It ran acceptably and got us to our destination, but you wouldn't believe the amount of smoke we left behind us.

Should of seen the look on the guy's face driving the kerosene delivery truck! That and it would usually clean out out the communities entire heating fuel supply for a few days.

RE: Mmmm...
By zinfamous on 6/23/2011 2:03:32 PM , Rating: 4
as far as I know, algae-based biofuels are some of the most efficient, if not the most efficient green fuel process today.

The algae can be fed from CO2 waste from various types of power plants--essentially giving a 0 sum intake to feed the algae, which then produces the fuel component; in addition to negating the CO2 impact from the much larger power plant. It's a huge benefit.

I'm not sure about the cost and energy scale in getting the algal-produced fuel to a combustible fuel type, though.

RE: Mmmm...
By invidious on 6/30/2011 2:26:23 PM , Rating: 2
You are confusing green friendlyness and efficiency. Efficiency is science and is the ratio between useful energy output and required energy input. It is typically used in reference to economics. Whereas CO2 is only relivant when you are worried about global warming and carbon credits and other psuedo sciences.

Being green is contrary to being efficient. Any time you add additional constrains to a process it makes it less efficient.

I am not saying that being green is bad, it just isnt cheap and isnt efficient.

RE: Mmmm...
By danjw1 on 6/23/2011 4:34:45 PM , Rating: 2
These algae based systems need to be closed systems to avoid contamination. The inputs are sugar (many sorts, not just sugar cane), CO2, sunlight and enough energy to run some pumps.

Who cares?
By lowsidex2 on 6/23/2011 3:52:55 PM , Rating: 2
Creating fuel from algae is cool and all but flying a helicopter or jetliner on it is not special. Jet engines will run on just about anything flammable, including ordinary car gasoline. I just don't see a news worthy story here.

RE: Who cares?
By Mitch101 on 6/23/2011 7:06:00 PM , Rating: 3
I get where your coming from but Its a start and Im glad to see it being put to use instead of corn.

Of all the alternatives Algae excites me the most.

Some companies/public utilities pay to have algae removed. In fact algae growth is a problem for some industries.

Algae can be produced anywhere so its not like oil where it needs to be discovered then removed from the ground then needs to be transported to refinery then from refinery to gas stations.

If algae spilled in the gulf no one would have cared or probably bothered to clean it up.

Algae is not a food source for humans unlike corn which farmers can price gouge and corn is heavily used for livestock we dont need to increase production if we use algae over something like corn.

Any country can make it so any country willing can become independent of oil.

RE: Who cares?
By shin0bi272 on 6/23/2011 11:19:07 PM , Rating: 2
you should research the CFPP of algae fuels... its not pretty.

RE: Who cares?
By Bad-Karma on 6/24/2011 4:57:23 AM , Rating: 1
A lot of people don't know this but regular diesel can start growing algae if it sits long enough. That and it loses quite a bit of its cetane rating the longer it sits. I don't know if that from the algae or some other another process.

In fact if you want to get better MPGs then it actually has a noticeable affect to fill up from stations that have a very high turn over with their tanks.

I've noticed a considerable difference when I take on diesel at a truck stop vs. a local station with one or two diesel pumps.

My F-550 has two frame rail 65gal tanks plus a 50gal tool/tank in the bed. If I top the whole thing off then and it sits for a couple of months then it really acts sluggish unless you put an additive in the tanks.

dont run this in cold weather
By shin0bi272 on 6/23/2011 11:21:23 PM , Rating: 2
IIRC the cfpp or cold filter plugging point of algae is the highest of any fuel to date. The algae fuel congeals at a temp around 70deg F... so might wanna think about that before the green movement causes more deaths.

RE: dont run this in cold weather
By xyzCoder on 6/24/2011 1:23:40 AM , Rating: 2
Dang, trolls show up everywhere and on every topic. Just so long as the person has an attachment to the alternative (eg: big nasty ol' oil/gas), they will try any and all arguments they can think of to avoid the conclusion they wish to avoid.

Case in point: the hydrocarbons created by algae are longer and therefore they congeal at fairly high temperatures.

Ask any organic chemist (or petro-chemist) and he/she will explain how easy (and cheap, energetically) it is to shorten long carbon chains (refineries, anyone?).

So, yah: algae makes a lot of sense and should give us awesome results - not that I trust any of this establishment of ours to get such results when they would much rather stick to the status quo.

RE: dont run this in cold weather
By JediJeb on 6/24/2011 5:57:31 PM , Rating: 2
Very true and I am sure the Navy has already though of that. It isn't like they would put something in million dollar aircraft that would crash it as soon a cool weather hits.

You just have to crack the initial fuel stock into shorter length carbon chains and convert any hydroxyl groups to esters to lower the freezing point and viscosity of the fuel.

RE: dont run this in cold weather
By joe4324 on 6/26/2011 12:12:20 AM , Rating: 2
70f? I've on several occasions burned pure hydrogenated oil and lard in my cars. I have heated veg-oil tanks that get to around 170F with a coolant loop. And its hose-in-hose all the way to the motor and it runs like a dream. Even in January when its -15F outside and windy. You just have to have the right system to handle it. If I can do it on my budget and skill level anyone can.

Algae-derived gunship fuel
By Strandwolf on 6/23/2011 2:42:25 PM , Rating: 2
Cool! Environmentally-friendly Death from Above!

RE: Algae-derived gunship fuel
By Pirks on 6/23/2011 3:10:57 PM , Rating: 2
Keeping Earth clean from Taliban pollution... and from CO2 polution too!

How much?
By icanhascpu on 6/23/2011 11:36:47 PM , Rating: 2
How much biofuel can be extracted from, say 100 square meter's of algae per year?

RE: How much?
By icanhascpu on 6/23/2011 11:40:11 PM , Rating: 2
Looking around so far I found a rough factor of 50:1.

By Raiders12 on 6/24/2011 8:07:31 AM , Rating: 2
Keep up the push for algae-based biofuel. My school here in Norfolk, Va has been researching and pushing for innovation in this field, and it suits well for the area having the world's largest US Navy base, along with multiple other bases. Get America off the Arabic sweet crude, and let's create our own fuel with old fashioned American innovation. Every little step counts.

I want some
By joe4324 on 6/26/2011 12:16:51 AM , Rating: 2
I'm teaching a short class tomorrow on stationary power generation using Bio-fuels. I'm desperate to get my hands on some algae oil. I want the pure oil not a bio-diesel or a blend to use as a test sample to run through my generator. Its already converted for waste cooking oil in its myriad of types (from pure canola to hydrogenated crap) and I'm itching to prove out some algae oil on this platform.

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