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DARPA Solicits Proposals for Biofuel Alternatives to JP-8

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Advanced Technology Office (ATO) is soliciting proposals for biofuel alternatives to JP-8 under a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) it issued earlier this month.

DARPA is interested in proposals for research and development efforts to develop a process that efficiently produces a surrogate for petroleum-based military jet fuel (JP-8) from oil-rich crops produced by either agriculture or aquaculture (including but not limited to plants, algae, fungi, and bacteria) and which ultimately can be an affordable alternative to petroleum-derived JP-8.

Conventional biodiesel produced via transesterification is 25% lower in energy density than JP-8, and exhibits unacceptable cold-flow features at the lower extreme of the required JP-8 operating range (-50° F). Subsequent secondary processing of biodiesel is currently inefficient and results in biofuel JP-8 being prohibitively expensive.

The goal of the BioFuels program is to enable an affordable alternative to petroleum-derived JP-8. The primary technical objective of the BioFuels program is to achieve a 60% (or greater) conversion efficiency, by energy content, of crop oil to JP-8 surrogate and elucidate a path to 90% conversion.

DARPA is encouraging the consideration of process paths that minimize the use of external energy sources, which are adaptable to a range or blend of feedstock crop oils, and which produce process by-products that have ancillary manufacturing or industrial value.

Potential approaches may include thermal, catalytic, or enzymatic technologies or combinations of these. DARPA anticipates that the key technology developments needed to obtain the program goal will result from a cross-disciplinary approach spanning the fields of process chemistry and engineering, materials engineering, biotechnology, and propulsion system engineering.

While the efficiency of the oil to JP-8 conversion process is the primary objective of this solicitation, the cost and availability of the necessary feedstock materials is also a factor. The development of conversion process technologies compatible with oils from a broad range of crops, potentially including new crop stocks selected specifically for their oil harvest, is preferred. Proposers will be required to provide a production cost model supporting their assertions of affordability.

The program will be an exploratory evaluation of processing crop oils into a JP-8 surrogate biofuel, resulting in a laboratory scale production to be tested at a suitable DOD test facility. The successful proposer is expected to deliver a minimum of 100 liters of JP-8 surrogate biofuel for initial government laboratory qualification. This final deliverable is in addition to any interim materials the proposer provides the government for intermediate test and evaluation purposes. Proposers should clearly identify the schedule and scope of any requested in-progress testing the government is to perform.

The criteria to be used to evaluate and select proposals for this project are in descending order of importance: (a) Technical Approach; (b) Potential Contribution and Relevance to the BioFuels Program Objectives and the DARPA Mission; (c) Offerors Capabilities and Related Experience; (d) Technology Transition Approach; and (e) Cost Reasonableness and Realism.



allen Z

And away we go!


My guess is that a bio jet fuel will be found but only the military will be willing to pay for it. The rest of us will be taking the train.

Rafael Seidl

What you need is a (GM) organism that produces not oil but wax, which you purify and then hydrocrack into what you want.

Another option is BTL and FT with some process refinements to better control yields of the desired range of compounds. What's left over can perhaps be used for civilian purposes, blended into mineral gasoline and/or diesel. The advantage of BTL is that it's not particularly fussy about the biomass feedstock.

A third avenue worth pursuing will emerge after it becomes clearer just what fuel properties can be produced in quantitiy and consistent quality. The engines on secondary applications such as logistics, perhaps even refuelling tankers, could be modified to make do with this substitute fuel even if it's not quite a good as JP-8, which is then reserved for combat aircraft.

Mark A

Rafael, maybe we need to develop a wax that can be carried in block or bale form, universal to all vehicles. Drop it into each vehicles on board hydrocracker/reformer, which turns it into whatever fuel is needed in that vehicle. Would eliminate many headaches. Back to reality..........

Perhaps Wesson Oil and Crisco have secrets here that can be applied in a much larger scope, to satisfy the Dept of Defence, and trickle over into the public.

Sid Hoffman

I don't think blocks of wax would work real well on fighter jets. The main purpose of JP8 is that it can sustain about -50 degrees before gelling, which is important since the ambient air temperature at high jet altitudes is around -40 to -45 or so.

An Engineer

I don't see GM, oil-rich or any other funky kind of algae getting large scale application. The reason is that you would have to sterilize the feed water (at high cost) and enclose the algal pond (again at high cost and also reducing the efficiency of the system due to reduced solar penetration) to keep out faster growing competitors. In an open system, the dominating algal species would probably change over time and possibly seasonally. Most likely you would have a mix of various algal species, each with its own competitive advantages. In such a system only the strongest (fastest growing) survive. This is what you want: maximum productivity.

I know the DOE project tried manipulating growing conditions to encourage higher lipid content, but although they had some success, the result was lower net productivity (kg lipid/ha.d). Obviously, you need to maximize productivity, so if you don't need to artificially boost lipids, that would help.

As I have mentioned before, the ideal feed water for an algal pond is sewage - free water and fertilizer, with clean water and fertilizer the byproducts.

For this system, the ability of BTL to use any biomass feedstock would be key. The proven ability of TDP/TCP to convert lipids from a mixed waste to hydrocarbons might also be of significance. The unproven ability of TDP/TCP to convert carbohydrate and protein to hydrocarbon may even make it superior to BTL.



You have just figured out what to do with all that leftover glycerine from bio-diesel processing.

Make it into anti-freeze and mix it with lower grade jet fuel.


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