Alternative fuels researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have successfully produced several new aviation fuel formulas at large scale, allowing them to move from lab testing to testing in engines and auxiliary power systems, officials said.
The goal is to help the U.S. Air Force meet its mandate to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, not to develop alternative fuels for commercialization, said Heinz Robota, UDRI’s alternative fuels synthesis group leader.
The Air Force consumes about 2.5 billion gallons of jet fuel annually, according to the National Defense Industrial Association. By 2030, the Air Force plans to fly on domestically produced alternative fuels derived from biomass sources that include plant oils, animal fats and agricultural waste, officials said.
“The Air Force is really driving the alternative fuels into the commercial sector,” Robota said. The service branch wants to be capable in a wide range of potential alternative fuels, without appearing favor one approach over another, he said.
UDRI and Air Force scientists last year processed three new kinds of non-petroleum research fuels using the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Assured Aerospace Fuels Research Facility Sample Preparation Unit. Two fuels were produced for Air Force testing, and one was for a defense contractor seeking to make commercially available alternative fuels.
The Air Force fuels, produced in amounts ranging from 500 to 750 gallons, were made from commercial chemical products with molecules typically used for making soaps and lubricants, Robota said. “You can buy them in rail-car quantities, which makes them inexpensive to start with,” he said.
The third fuel, which UDRI helped the company finish, was derived from seed oils, Robota said.
Robota’s group develops samples with certain properties the Air Force can use to test how different alternative fuel compositions influence their practical in-use properties. For example, the two Air Force research fuels have very narrow boiling ranges at either the high or low end of conventional jet fuel, he said.
Robota’s group performs nearly $4 million of sponsored research annually. His UDRI lab employs two technicians, one graduate student and two undergraduate students. The AFRL facility employs five engineers and five technicians who are either UDRI staff or subcontractors, he said.
Another UDRI group is looking into using algae and coal as alternative fuel sources, officials said.