If you are the US Navy, you need lots of vehicles that are far from ordinary. One such vehicle is called an unmanned undersea vehicle or UUV. The US Naval Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research are planning the next generation of large UUVs. One of their goals is that the vessels be capable of operating for up to 60 days continuously. At present, battery powered UUV’s simply are not capable of fulfilling such extended missions.
Engineers at Princeton Optronics say they have figured out a way to use lasers in place of spark plugs in internal combustion engines. Why is that important? Because using lasers increases efficiency by a whopping 27%. All that extra efficiency means more power and lower emissions, too.
Every time the world declares the internal combustion engine is dead, someone comes along and revives it. Think back to the 70’s, when the campaign to clean up exhaust emissions gave us evil smelling engines that wouldn’t turn off. They would run your air conditioner or move your car forward but didn’t have enough power to do both at the same time. Corvettes left the factory with engines rated at a meager 150 horsepower. Everyone agreed the internal combustion engine was obsolete. Yet today, four-cylinder engines with twin turbos and electric superchargers crank out 450 horsepower reliably and do it while meeting ever tightening emissions rules. So much for the end of the gasoline engine.
Engines have changed a lot over the years, but spark plugs have not. Yes, some now use platinum instead of copper for longer life, but the idea of shooting a high voltage current across an air gap to make a spark hasn’t changed much in 100 years. The biggest problem with spark plugs is they have to be mounted on the edge of the combustion chamber, which leads to less than optimal burning of the fuel/air mixture.
Princeton Optronics says it has figured out how to focus a laser beam directly in the middle of the combustion chamber for more complete burning of the mixture. That means more power with fewer emissions. Lasers could also be targeted at several areas within the combustion chamber for even more accurate control over the combustion process. Cancel the funeral for the “infernal combustion engine” — again.
The research was funded by a $150,000 grant from the US government. The laser system has not yet been tested under the hood of a road car, but the company says it can withstand the heat, pressure and high rpm found in a typical internal combustion engine. Already, inquiries have come in from several shipping companies, which are under pressure to reduce emissions from their emissions spewing marine engines. The Navy is also investigating the use of lasers in aircraft engines.
Toyota says it was working on a laser ignition system back in 2011, but never developed a working prototype. If the benefits of laser ignition are proven in real world use, the internal combustion engine just got another long term lease on life.
Originally posted on CleanTechnica
A couple of years ago certain leaders in Congress seemed ready to fight to the death against the Navy biofuel program, but that was then and this is now. The Navy has announced the construction of three new biorefineries with a combined capacity of 100 million gallons per year of military grade biofuel. That’s a gigantic step towards establishing a commercial, cost-competitive market for biofuels.
The announcement came in the runup to the historic UN Climate Summit, and it also casts an interesting angle on the big ExxonMobil petrochemical announcement that came in the middle of Climate Week NYC.
More And Better Navy Biofuel
The Navy biofuel initiative got a super-ambitious launch in the early years of the Obama Administration, much to the dismay of certain legislators (okay, so Republicans spearheaded by Senator McCain).
The subsequent legislative maneuvering involved preventing the Navy from purchasing biofuels, under the guise of budget restraints.
However, the Navy pulled an end-run, by investing directly in public-private biofuel pilot projects for next-generation biofuel production including woody biomass, municipal solid waste, and algae.
How’d they get permission to do that? Well, there’s a little something that goes back to the 1950’s called the Defense Production Act, which enables the Department of Defense to partner with the private sector to ensure an adequate stream of domestically produced supplies that play key roles in national defense. So. There.
The Navy biofuel initiative has also involved partnering with the departments of Agriculture and Energy, which brings us to the latest Navy biofuel announcement in concert with those two agencies.
Navy Biofuel Gets Fatter, Woodier, and Wastier
The new initiative demonstrates how quickly the biofuel industry could move away from farmlands and embrace a broader variety of non-food feedstocks that don’t compete with agriculture for growing space. These are not pilot projects, they are full commercial-scale operations.
In partnership with Agriculture and Energy, the Navy is investing in three new contracts for “drop-in” biofuels, though not quite at 100 percent drop-in, though. The performance of a 50-50 blend was verified in action during the 2012 RIMPAC exercises, and the Navy is apparently sticking with that for now.
The RIMPAC (that stands for Rim of the Pacific) exercise included biofuel for Navy aircraft as well as ships, btw.
We’re particularly interested in the Emerald Biofuels project, because when the Navy first announced that it would use biofuel from chicken fat and other waste fats that seemed pretty far-fetched, but apparently it’s going to happen.
Emerald’s contract will result in the construction of an 82 million gallon-per-year refinery using waste fat feedstock. It will be located on the Gulf Coast.
The other two projects are more modestly scaled. One, by Fulcrum BioEnergy, involves a 10 million gallon refinery in Nevada. The feedstock will be municipal solid waste.
The other one is a 12 million gallon-per-year operation by Red Rock Biofuels, which will use waste biomass from forestry operations. That one is located up in Oregon.
Hmmm…Gulf Coast…Nevada…Oregon…If you step back and take a meta-view, you can see how the Navy biofuel program is a win-win. By supporting commercial-scale production, the Navy gets its hands on a secure, regionalized stream of fuel that is buffered from the volatility of the global petromarket.
Here’s Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has been a passionate advocate for Navy biofuels, with more on that topic:
The contracts being announced today will help expand the operational capability of our Navy and Marine Corps around the world. In today’s complex fiscal environment, we are balancing our mission with our resources and we must be innovative and forward-thinking. Programs like these help keep our operational capabilities on the cutting edge. This is how Sailors and Marines defend our great nation.
About That ExxonMobil Thing…
That biofuel waste reclamation twofer is a big advantage for biofuel over conventional fuel, but the sticky wicket is to bring down the cost of biofuel to a competitive level with conventional fuels, and that’s where ExxonMobil could be dropping some hints with its latest moves.
Along with the aforementioned petrochemical expansions, which involve overseas refineries, ExxonMobil is also expanding its Baytown, Texas refineries to produce plastic from shale gas.
What do you think, does that mean ExxonMobil sees the competition from commercial scale biofuel on an inevitable upwards climb, eventually making the conventional fuel market less attractive that other high-value markets such as plastics and industrial solvents?
Keep in mind that back in the day, despite howls of opposition the Navy was front and center in our nation’s seagoing move from sail power to coal, and in short order from coal to petroleum and nuclear power.
Could be that ExxonMobil has been keeping close tabs on the Navy’s efforts to support a cost-competitive biofuel market, and sees the writing on the wall. Stay tuned.
We’ve talked about the US Navy- and the US military, in general- investing heavily in green energy, more sustainable living, and biofuels like ethanol and algae-based biodiesels, all in the name of national security. Still, it may surprise you to learn that the Navy, through the US Office of Naval Research, has been tapped to help commercialize the next generation of ultra lightweight metals. Translation: that ultra lightweight car you’ve been dreaming of will be here sooner than you think, thanks to the US Navy.
You can read more about the Navy’s efforts to make the next generation of ultralight, ultra-efficient new cars a reality in this article by Cleantechnica senior reporter, Tina Casey. Enjoy!
The US Office of Naval Research has been tapped to spearhead a new public-private research effort that will bridge the “Valley of Death” between cutting edge foundational research and the marketplace, all in the name of commercializing the next…
America’s military leaders have been strong advocates for converting America’s war machine to renewable biofuels in general and ethanol in particular. US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus just wrote a new article over at Foreign Policy that lays out all of his reasons to move away from oil, from dependence on foreign powers to oil’s troublesome logistics, higher prices, and environmental impact. Tina Casey, over at our sister site, Cleantechnica, went through their stupid “you must register to read this even though we’re the government and we already know who you are” nonsense to read the whole thing and summarized it nicely (I thought), below. Enjoy!
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has been a fierce advocate for renewable energy in general and Navy biofuel in particular, and he’s just scribed a new article over at Foreign Policy that lays out all the reasons why domestic oil production will do little…
Major automakers are all going green, as are many government militaries who see the battle for limited oil resources as a major flashpoint going forward. The U.S. government has just awarded Saft with $1.3 million to continue developing a lithium-ion battery system for the next-generation of Army Ground Combat Vehicles, or GCVs.
Saft claims to have already built a demonstration battery system including all of the hardware and software, which will be used in the next GCV. Called the Energy Storage Solution system, or ESS, this hybrid-drive system will allow the nine-man GCV armored personnel carrier to run silently and idle without sucking up precious fuel. This even extends to the next-gen Hummer, slated to get almost 7 mpg!
The military has spent upwards of $400 a gallon to protect and transport fuel to remote outposts in places like Afghanistan. Any means of reducing dependence on liquid fuels would save the U.S. military (and American taxpayers) hundreds of millions of dollars. The military sees reducing dependence on petroleum as an issue of national security, and hybridizing Army units like the GCV can go a long way towards those goals.
Meanwhile the U.S. Navy is trying out a new biofuels based on algae and the Pentagon is deploying solar panels to units the world over. With hybrid combat vehicles set to be deployed in the next few years, I think it is safe to say that hybrid technology has definitely gone mainstream. Will hybrid attack vehicles be able to finally convert those alternative-energy skeptics? Or will there always be hybrid haters, whether it is a tank, race car, or personal vehicle?
Source: Hybrid Cars
The term “fossil fuels” comes from the fact that the oil in the ground is the result of compressed carbon life dating back millions of years. But a new biofuel breakthrough by researchers at the University of Michigan has turned wet algae into a viable oil substitute in under a minute. Is this the moment that algae goes mainstream?
Not quite. The process, developed by chem professor Phil Savage and doctoral student Julia Faeth, superheats algae located in a thin metal tube that is then placed in 1,100-degree F. In about a minute, the algae heats to over 550 degrees, turning about 65% of the sea plant into biocrude. Ba-zing, right?
Not quite. What makes this process so different is the use of wet algae versus dry algae. Many biofuel producers first dry the algae before converting it into biocrude, but the Savage method also breaks down proteins and carbohydrates, in edition to the existing fat of the algae, resulting in a better yield. Because the reaction time is just a minute, the process is also a lot cheaper. Currently, the U.S. Navy spends around $27 a gallon for experimental algae fuel…but the U.S. Military as a whole sees a lot of potential in green gasoline.
Right now many algae fuels are going for over $20 a gallon, a long ways away from being economically viable, but algae oil refineries are popping up all over the country. The Savage method could result in huge savings, though there are still other hurdles to overcome, including excess oxygen and nitrogen within the biocrude. But because algae oil could use the existing U.S. oil infrastructure, and be a straight replacement for oil-based petrol, it could offer a forever-sustainable fuel solution for America.
Could we be filling our gas tanks with algae within our lifetimes? Wouldn’t that be cool?
Source: University of Michigan
Hydrogen is the quiet giant of alternative fuels. It is by far the most promising alternative fuel in a variety of ways, but there are a number of obstacles to widespread adoption. Yet major automakers have continued plowing forward with hydrogen fuel cell research, and GM is at the forefront. The General says it is on track to deliver hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to dealerships by 2016. Is it bluster, or are they for real?
GM has delivered hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to a wide variety of customers for testing as part of Project Driveway. GM has also given a couple of hydrogen vehicles to the Navy to try out as well. Yet it seems like GM has been testing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles foreverrrrr…and the testing will probably continue.
Yet GM is holding tight (at least for now) to the 2015/2016 timeframe for the delivery of actual production vehicles to dealerships, the same time frame as automakers like Toyota. Granted, sales will be limited to highly localized geographic areas with an established hydrogen fueling infrastructure. There has been talk of building hydrogen highways up and down the coastlines of the U.S., but so far no such fueling system exists. If hydrogen vehicles are to make any market penetration at all, there will have to be places to refuel them.
Fuel cell vehicles will also have to come down in price. While automakers like Honda are leasing limited quantities of their FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the public, the cost can be around $850 a month. That is more than most people can afford to spend on a car. Then there are companies like Hyundai, who have pledged to bring hydrogen cars to market, but keep moving the date back.
Can GM bring the price down, while building the infrastructure up, in order to get hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market in the next four years? I think it can be done, and should be done, especially given that electric cars aren’t panning out as hoped. But what say you? Is GM and other automakers serious about bringing fuel cell vehicles to market soon? Or are they just stringing us along?
Imagine a fighting force that can scavenge its own fuel as it marches along, and you’re either thinking about the Continental Army’s march to Yorktown or the U.S. Navy not too many years in the future. Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington are working on a process that can produce jet fuel from seawater. It sounds like something that would give the U.S. a powerful edge in action, so let’s call this Round 3 in the Navy’s efforts to free itself from dependency on fossil fuels.
The United States Navy is the single largest purchaser of diesel fuel in the world, and it is no wonder why; have you ever seen a Nimitz-class supercarrier in person? It’s friggin’ huge. So it is no wonder that the Navy wants to explore homegrown alternatives to the foreign oil that it uses right now. A recent $210 million biofuel purchase by the Navy to three U.S.-based refining operations has pissed off some members of the Republican party who still think we’re sitting on an unlimited and uninterrupted supply of oil.
A Little Cash Buys A Lot Of Green Gas
I probably don’t have to remind you that the United States has far and away the largest and most technologically advanced Navy in the history of the world. Some of these ships, like the aforementioned Nimitz-class supercarrier, are actually powered by mini nuke reactors. However, many support ships like Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are powered by gas or diesel turbines, not to mention that all of our tanks, HUMVEE’s, and even FOB’s (forward operating bases).
So, keeping in mind that the U.S. defense budget for the fiscal year 2013 will be about $614 BILLION, doesn’t it seem odd that GOP lawmakers would single out a $210 million purchase order for experimental fuels? No, not really; the GOP has consistently proved itself to be anti-science, out of touch, penny wise but pound foolish. The Navy initially purchased just 450,000 gallons of alternative jet fuels at a cost of $12 million; obviously the results were impressive enough that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus felt it was time to scale up production.
Yes, $27 a gallon for experimental biofuels is a lot of money; however, the Navy has already proven the effectiveness of these homegrown, sustainable fuels, mixing it with JP-8 (the standard military fuel), bringing the effective cost closer to $15 a gallon. A large order like this will allow the three selected refiners to scale up production, producing at least 10 million gallons of biofuel annually while seriously cutting down on costs.
The Future Of Fuel, Or GOP Folly?
GOP lawmakers have tried to reign in these biofuel purchases with provisions and bills that would limit the Department of Defense to only purchasing biofuels that cost the same as petroleum. Talk about shortsighted. The Pentagon has taken the lead in numerous projects like the Internet and GPS, which eventually filtered their way into regular consumers hands. But these projects required significant investment early on, and not every project pans out. Yet companies like OriginOil have already developed sustainable alternatives that could use our established refining infrastructure.
Yet I think there is no greater need in the coming decades than sustainable, domestically-produced fuel. Though it isn’t in the news as much these, war with Iran could double oil prices overnight and it is still a very real threat. And what if Iran isn’t alone? Venezuela is a close ally of Iran, as well as a huge exporter of oil to the U.S. and Mexico, another major supplier of oil to the U.S., is in many ways embroiled in a civil war against well-armed and well-organized drug gangs. It’s a scary thought, and in order to avoid that nightmare scenario, the U.S. government has an obligation to help develop useful alternatives, cost be damned.
If we can afford to pay $150 million for each F-22 Raptor, a plane that has been plagued by serious issues since its inception, then we can afford $210 million to help develop an alternative fuel that everybody one day might use.