It might surprise you to hear that the U.S. military may be advancing the field of alternative fuels.
But rising petroleum costs and a desire to cut dependence on oil have pushed the military to take alternative biofuels very seriously. In fact, a recent Bloomberg interview shows that the Air Force plans to certify all of its aircraft models to burn biofuels, especially those derived from animal fats and plants, by 2013. That figure is three years ahead of previous targets.
While biofuels currently cost too much for the military to consistently use, officials feel they can "create a market," and drive down the price of such materials. In January, The New York Times reported that the military's current plans to use biofuels were unlikely to be cost-effective, but recent progress shows that may not be the case.
"Reliance on fossil fuels is simply too much of a vulnerability for a military organization to have," U.S. Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus said in an interview with Bloomberg. "We’ve been certifying aircraft on biofuels. We’re doing solar and wind, geothermal, hydrothermal, wave, things like that on our bases."
NPR has also reported that the Air Force and the Navy have been testing fuels based on plants and animal fats recently, and have been showing tremendous promise. Bloomberg shows that these fuels have other benefits than cost:
The armed forces say they’ve been successful testing fuels produced from sources as diverse as animal fat, frying oils and camelina, an oil-bearing plant that’s relatively drought- and freeze-resistant.
While the big problem right now is cost, a large military contract may be just what biofuel companies need to get off the ground. “You can’t take a 10-year contract from an American airline to the bank and get the financing that you need,” James Rekoske, vice president of renewable energy at Honeywell’s UOP unit told Bloomberg. “You can if you have a 10-year contract from the U.S. Navy.”
With money for more refineries, the price of these fuels may quickly decrease, according to NPR. Additionally, the government has begun to offer incentives for farmers who have begun to grow camelina, which is used for some fuels.
The military isn't the only organization thinking about the future. The Huffington Post's Rebecca Dolan detailed the airline industry's attempts to focus on biofuels, as companies also look to reduce emissions and dependency on oil.
Check out the slideshow below of some of the world's weirdest alternative fuels:
It may be technically possible to run your car on human fat, but it's a little creepy. Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Bittner took things a bit too far when he admitted to running his Ford SUV and his girlfriend's Lincoln Navigator on his patients' fat, reports Forbes. "The vast majority of my patients request that I use their fat for fuel--and I have more fat than I can use," Bittner wrote on his (now removed) site, lipodiesel.com. His actions far from impressed authorities, who began an investigation into his practice. He later left the country to take up volunteer work in Brazil.
You should never drink alcohol and drive, but what about drive on alcohol power? In 2007, Sweden seized 185,000 gallons of alcohol, heated and converted it into biogas, and used it to power buses, trucks and a biogas train. According to the Associated Press, customs spokeswoman Ingrid Jerlebrink said, "We used to just pour it down the drain, but because of the increased volumes we had to look around for new solutions."
The New York Times reported in 2009 on a car that ran in part on biodiesel from chocolate waste. A team from the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Center said it had built a Formula 3 car which ran not just on chocolate, but also featured car components made out of carrots, potato starch and flax fiber. Leader James Meredith said his goal was "to show what is possible. People love motor racing, and the trick is to do it in a more environmentally responsible manner. A racing car doesn't have to harm the planet."
French farmers are turning to the ultimate gastronomic-inspired fuel by running a few of their vehicles on duck fat, reports Reuters. The Dordogne-based farmers collect the duck fat from nearby restaurants and culinary businesses every two weeks. Other animal fat from pigs and cattle are added to the duck-like soup, which is then mixed in a 30 to 70 percent ratio with diesel. The jury is out on the ethics behind using animals for energy.
Since diapers hit the market in the 1940's, they've produced heaps of landwaste. But now, a Japanese firm might have come up with a solution by developing a new machine that converts adult diapers into biofuel. It takes only one day for this machine to process the diapers into compressed form, which can then be used in biomass gasifiers to generate energy, reports CNET.
From credit card statements to shredded government documents and unwanted cardboard, converting paper waste into fuel has huge energy-saving potential. In January 2010, Novozymes and Fiberight unveiled the world's first car to run on paper waste. The way it works is simple: After a sequence of pulping, pre-treatment and wash, enzymes turn the paper and cardboard waste into sugars that are then fermented into biofuel, reports Green Car Congress.
Faced with an escalating rabbit population in 2008, Stockholm city officials started churning the cotton tailed critters into biofuel to heat homes, says TIME. Animal rights groups expressed outrage over mincing rabbits for fuel. A total of one hundred thousand tons of raw animal material can generate enough heat for 11,000 homes a year.