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U.S. Navy, Cobalt to develop military jet biofuel

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The U.S. Navy and Mountain View, Calif.-based biofuel outfit Cobalt Technologies have agreed to jointly develop military jet fuel converted from biobutanol.

The U.S. Navy and Mountain View, Calif.-based biofuel outfit Cobalt Technologies on Wednesday agreed to jointly develop military jet fuel converted from biobutanol.

Under the new agreement, Cobalt's biobutanol will be converted to bio-jet and biodiesel fuels using technology developed at the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif.

We previously wrote about Cobalt in an interview with the company's CEO, Rick Wilson, who explained his company's strategy for success: co-location.

The idea is to craft a complete substitute for military and civilian jet fuel, which plays into the Navy's high prioritization of sustainable, domestic sources of alternative fuels for its aircraft and other vehicles.

The Navy has announced its intention to increase its use of biofuels and decrease its carbon footprint  -- and, most importantly, its dependence on foreign petroleum.

"Our goal as a Navy is to be an early adopter of new technologies that enhance national security in an environmentally sustainable way," Rear Admiral Philip Cullom has said about the Navy's green energy program.

Scientists from both groups will investigate how to achieve the best conditions -- time versus cost versus energy-efficiency -- to convert the biobutanol into jet fuel.

The process involves dehydration chemistry, with two main steps:

  • Convert bio-n-butanol to 1-butene.
  • Oligomerize biobutene into jet fuel.

The groups will also work on converting biobutanol into butyl ether, which can be mixed with n-butanol and other compounds to create a dop-in diesel fuel replacement.

Moving forward, the two groups are working toward demonstrating and implementing a large-scale process for renewable fuel for the military.

The big takeaway from this announcement? The private sector and military are open to working with each other to meet the latter's top-down green fuels mandate.

For the private sector, it's a huge business opportunity.

For the military, it's a chance to diversify their fuel portfolio to be more versatile, as well as be an early adopter to spur demand in the market.

A few recent bites about the Navy's work in this area:

  • The Navy recently tested the experimental RCB-X riverine command boat using a 50-50 blend of an algae-based biofuel and petroleum.
  • 2012 is the target date for what's being called the Navy's "great green fleet."
  • The Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force are working on a cross-functional military biofuels team.

Photo: F/A-18 Green Hornet. (Kevin O'Brien/U.S. Navy)

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure