* Long term goal to reduce dependence on foreign oil
* Recent tests showed warplanes can fly on bio-fuels
WASHINGTON May 10 The Pentagon is working hard
to promote development of biomass fuels that could power future
fighter jets and other warplanes, but defense officials say it
could take years to get a full-fledged industry on its feet.
Top U.S. defense officials and executives from the
petroleum, alternative fuels and renewable energy sectors are
meeting outside Washington this week to address new technology
developments and initiatives such as the Pentagon's work on
developing biofuels to power military aircraft.
The long-term goal is to decrease U.S. dependence on
foreign crude oil, said Air Force Colonel Francis Rechner,
director of operations of the Defense Energy Support Center,
run by the Pentagon's main logistics agency.
Rechner cited the March flight of an Air Force A-10
Thunderbolt II attack plane, powered by a mix of biomass and
jet fuel, and the flight of the Navy's "Green Hornet," a Boeing
Co (BA.N) F/A-18 fighter jet powered a blend of jet fuel and a
biofuel made of camelina, a hardy U.S. plant.
Both aircraft performed well using the new bio-based fuels,
he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Mark Iden, Rechner's deputy, said his agency signed an
agreement in March with the Air Transport Association, the main
industry group for U.S. commercial airlines, to help promote
widespread commercialization of environmentally friendly
aviation fuels and become less reliant on petroleum.
Together the airline industry and the U.S. military use
more than 1.5 million barrels of jet fuel a day.
The challenge now was to promote construction of facilities
that could produce large quantities of biofuels using algae,
camelina and other plants, Iden said.
He said there was a lot of research and development under
way, but it could take years to create a full-fledged industry.
"We are literally developing it from scratch," Iden said,
adding he expected the Pentagon to issue an initial
solicitation for bids from industry within a year or two.
Iden said the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had
spurred interest in the Pentagon's work on alternative fuels
and underscored the importance of alternative fuels.
But the military would rely on petroleum for a long time,
he said. "You're never going to eliminate petroleum."
Rechner said the Obama administration supported the
Pentagon's efforts, and President Barack Obama in December
nominated Sharon Burke, vice president of the Center for a New
American Security think tank, to become the Pentagon's new
director of operational energy plans and programs.
That post was aimed at coordinating various energy
efficiency and alternative energy programs across the various
military services, a good step in the right direction, but
Burke's nomination was being held up by lawmakers, he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)