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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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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.

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