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Biofuels could bolster national security, leaders say

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — A top British envoy says the U.S. and the U.K. could collaborate more on the development and use of biofuels in the military to boost both nations’ security and energy interests and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Royal Navy Rear Adm. Neil A. Morisetti, the British government’s climate and energy security envoy, toured the Air Force Research Laboratory Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson with retired four-star Air Force Gen. Ronald E. Keys, a former Air Combat Command commander, on Wednesday.

The directorate has an extensive research initiative into the development and use of biofuels worldwide.

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The U.S. military could face an obstacle to further purchase of biofuel, however. Language in the congressional versions of the defense bill would ban the military from buying alternative fuel that’s more expensive than conventional fuel, according to published reports.

Keys said the investment is worth the cost given the potential payoff.

The retired general served on the nonprofit CNA Military Advisory Board.

The board, a blue-ribbon panel, released a report calling for the development of alternative fuels to reduce the risk of dependence on foreign oil, among other findings.

One reason the cost is so highabout four times the price of conventional fuelis because the military buys the fuel in small quantities, Keys said.

Tim Edwards, the AFRL directorate’s principal chemical engineer, said researchers hope to lower costs through the commercialization of biofuels.

“We’re really kind of in the infancy” of a new industry, he said. The Air Force program’s goal is to become cost-competitive and more environmentally friendly than conventional fuel, he said.

Both the U.S. and U.K. have certified some aircraft to consume a blend of biofuel and jet fuel, officials said. Biofuels draw from a wide range of sources, from algae to homegrown crops such as corn or soybeans. “Already, there are passenger aircraft flying with biofuels” mixed with conventional jet fuel, Keys said.

The Defense Department consumes about 90 percent of the fuel the government buys. The Air Force purchases more than 2.5 billion gallons of jet fuel a year to power its fleets of aircraft, Edwards said.
 

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