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DARPA looks into biofuel for jets

A research programme at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking into biofuel for US military jets.

In an effort to reduce the military’s reliance on imported oil, DARPA is exploring ways to convert so-called ‘yellow grease oil’ or plant-based ‘cellulosic and algae sources’ into JP8 jet biofuel.

The goal, according Barbara McQuiston, Director of the Strategic Technology Office and Programme Manager for biofuels, is to come up with non-petroleum sources to power military aircraft, ground vehicles and non-nuclear ships.

The DARPA-funded biofuels programme is looking at sources for biofuels including algae, seeds and corn husks.

The private sector is already exploring this possibility with several commercial airlines having conducted test flights using a blend of petroleum and biofuel.

This research may have some military application, McQuiston says, but the biodiesel produced through current commercial processes is not necessarily suitable for its uses. For example, it needs a fuel that meets exceptionally high standards; and it must be as efficient at -20° as at +140°.

McQuiston expects to have a proven biodiesel alternative that meets all the established requirements, and to be able to present it to the military services so they can consider using it within a few years.

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