From: Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce
Published June 7, 2005 12:00 AM

Alternative Fuels Push to Benefit Alaska

LOCATION — A new federal initiative to manufacture alternate fuels from coal could benefit projects in Alaska.

Theodore Barna, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense, said the Department of Defense is launching an effort to get U.S. industry to tackle alternative fuels projects to make ultra-clean, high-performance jet fuel and diesel for the military.

Barna told the Alaska Clean Energy Symposium in Anchorage May 26 that Department of Defense intends for its OSD Clean Fuels Initiative to jump-start domestic production of clean fuels made from non-petroleum sources, including coal and oil-shale.

With its huge coal resources, Alaska is one place the department will examine as a site for an alternative fuels plants.

Barna said the department is neutral on the type of technology employed, but the military is already engaged in testing Fischer-Tropsch fuels made with natural gas and would like to see F-T plants built in the United States using coal, he said.

"Our goal is to be a catalyst for commercial industry to produce clean fuels for the military from secure domestic sources," Barna said.

The department believes the United States is too reliant on imported crude oil and refined products, Barna said. "When we look at what our energy situation might be 15 years from now, we think it is possible that the military might not be able to do its job," he said.

Not only is the nation too reliant on imports, but the domestic refinery industry is too concentrated in large refineries located in coastal areas.

Existing refineries are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and supply disruptions if one plant goes out of service, Barna said.

An alternative fuels production system based on coal and oil-shale fuels would be diversified among a number of new plants spread around the country, he said.

The U.S. military uses 4 percent of the petroleum consumed each year in the nation, Barna said. Almost three-fourths of that is jet fuel consumed by the Air Force. Another 15 percent is used by ground forces, mostly in the form of diesel and gasoline. The remaining 10 percent is used by the Navy and Coast Guard, he said.

Testing by the military shows that alternative fuels such as diesel and jet fuel made with Fischer-Tropsch technology show superior performance compared with crude oil-based fuels.

The clean fuels are ideal for fuel cells, which have little tolerance for sulfur, as well as scram-jet systems.

A $3.5 million testing program with Fischer-Tropsch fuels produced by Syntroleum Corp. of Tulsa, Okla., has been underway since 2002, Barna said.

A parallel testing program on the Syntroleum fuels is being done in Alaska under a U.S. Department of Energy project.

Tour buses in Denali National Park are being run with the fuel, and a series of tests were carried out by the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a stationary generator similar to those used in rural community power plants.

The Alaska testing program is being managed by Integrated Concepts Research Corp., a subsidiary of Koniag Inc., the Kodiak-area Alaska Native regional corporation, which is engaged in research on Fischer-Tropsch fuels for the military.

Barna said the fuels have been shown to have excellent cold-start capabilities and superior environmental qualities due to the absence of sulfur and aromatics.

He acknowledged problems with lubricity in Fischer-Tropsch fuels due to the lack of sulfur and that absence of aromatics have caused shrinkage of seals in engines. Many of these problems might be solved by blending the ultra-clean fuel with conventional fuels, he said.

Tests show Fischer-Tropsch diesel fuel to have a much higher cetane rating than diesel fuel made from crude oil. Cetane is used as a measure of the energy content of diesel like octane is used for gasoline.

Although the military is currently exempt from clean air rules, the exemption won't last forever, Barna said. Many military installations are in regions with air quality problems and the Department of Defense has a certain social obligation to local communities, he said.

The department wants a supply of 12.5 million gallons of synthetic J-8 and diesel by 2007 to begin a testing program in military aircraft and vehicles, Barna said.

The clean energy symposium, held for the second year in Anchorage, is sponsored by the U.S. Army's National Automotive Center in Detroit and WestStart-CalStart, a California-based firm engaged in advanced transportation technology research.

ICRC was also a major sponsor of the conference, as was SpringBoard, a program that commercializes technologies developed by Alaska firms for the military. SpringBoard is administered by the Juneau Economic Development Council.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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