Biofuelling our military vehicles

With increasing pressure to reduce carbon emissions, maintain fuel security and ensure greater sustainability, biofuels are receiving growing attention.

DST scientists are exploring the use of biofuels and other alternate source fuels in military vehicles. In particular, they are investigating the impact of alternate fuels on vehicle performance and maintenance, and fuel infrastructure.

High performance military vehicles present unique considerations when it comes to fuel. Compared to everyday cars or commercial aeroplanes, these vehicles operate in extreme environments.

DST fuels scientists are analysing the fundamental components of alternate and conventional fuels - their individual molecules and chemical reactions - to ensure they have a full understanding of their chemical behaviour and how that may impact on performance.

DST’s research ensures that the fuels used by ADF platforms remain safe and effective irrespective of whether the fuel was made from crude oil or animal fats.

In particular, DST’s research will help to ensure that alternate fuels can be used interchangeably with conventional fuels, using the same infrastructure for transport, storage and refuelling, and achieving the same vehicle performance regardless of whether the fuel is sourced from crude oil or alternate sources.

Sources of alternate fuels

Alternate fuels have been traditionally sourced from coal and natural gas which makes them difficult to be classed as biofuels. The term biofuel implies that the feedstock is from living matter and hence renewable. Biofuels have typically been sourced from feedstocks with very high fat or oil content, such as algae, animal fats, and vegetable oils, however as more production pathways come onto the market, anything with a high carbon content can be viable. This includes cellulose or lignin derived from plants and trees, and waste from agricultural crops.

Benefits of alternate fuels

In addition to reducing carbon emissions, some alternate fuels have been shown to produce less dirt inside aircraft engines and fuel systems, which means less maintenance and increased engine life. For the ADF, this could mean significant maintenance cost savings and increased aircraft availability.

The future of alternate fuels in the military

The US Navy has committed to having 50% of all their energy derived from an alternate source by 2020. Given that the US is a close ally, DST is seeking to ensure that ADF platforms can also operate on these fuels for joint exercises and operations.

For Australia, it is not a question of if we start using biofuels, but when.