PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Some of America’s best fighter jets can soar without using a drop of oil for fuel.
The Navy’s EA-18 Growler fighter jet can fly more than 1,100 miles per hour. It costs $68 million to build, and it’s flying on 100 percent bio-fuel, made from things like kitchen grease and plant seeds.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the engine does not function any differently.
“It may burn a little cleaner, but no, otherwise the engine doesn’t notice a difference,” he said.
In 2009, Mabus committed the Navy to 50 percent usage of alternative fuels by the year 2020.
“It’s to make us better war fighters,” he said. “Energy is vulnerability. Energy can be used as a weapon.”
“When I came in, the Marines were losing a Marine killed or wounded for every 50 convoys of fuel brought into Afghanistan. That’s too high a price to pay,” he said.
Until recently, petroleum had to be added to bio-fuel for it to pack enough punch to be feasible. But ARA, a Panama City, Florida, company that was working on a process to make sterile water in remote areas, when they stumbled on a way to make bio-fuel identical to petroleum.
“It’s a material that has all the same molecules as petroleum crude, but from a renewable feed stock,” said Chuck Redd, the company’s vice president of field development.
One of those feed stocks is Ethiopian mustard seeds that can grow in arid ground and can be used by farmers as a rotation crop. Ara’s process can also use waste grease from water treatment plants and kitchens.
Ara senior vice-president Glen McDonald saw an opportunity for his company, and the world.
“I hope that one day all diesel vehicles are operated with our fuel, I hope that all commercial jets are operated with our fuel,” McDonald said.
As for the U.S. Navy, that goal is well underway. Alternative fuels now power 30 percent of naval ships and 50 percent of its bases.