Flying High (And Cheap) With Biofuels
The U.S. military is the world's largest gas guzzler, buying and burning through more than 8 billion gallons of fuel per year [source: National Energy Technology Laboratory]. Jet fuel is a particularly expensive resource and the military is always looking for ways to cut the cost of maintaining its airborne fleet. One exciting possibility is the increased use of biofuels in the jet fuel mix.
During World War II, German scientists developed a process of making liquid fuel from coal. Known as Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) fuels, they can be made from coal, natural gas or biomass [source: Ryan]. The U.S. military is particularly interested in biomass as a fuel source because it decreases reliance on foreign oil, thereby increasing energy security in the event of an international crisis.
But the focus on biofuels is about more than energy security or "greening up" the military. It's also a smart business decision. In a 2012 press conference, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers explained that military testing shows that biofuels burn cleaner and cooler in jet engines. That increases overall engine life by a factor of ten, greatly reducing repair and replacement costs [source: Ryan].
Another benefit of biofuels is that they have less mass than fossil fuels, meaning that bio-based jet fuel weighs less than conventional jet fuel. This could have big implications for commercial aircraft, where the weight of the airplane is reflected in ticket prices. A greener, more secure military plus cheaper flights to Cleveland? Another biofuel win for everyone.