The Pentagon’s cutting-edge research shop, the DARPA, issued a broad area announcement earlier this month for ideas on how to convert coal from the nation’s abundant reserves to liquid fuel in a manner that is far more economical and environmentally friendly than current processes. Over the course of the next fiscal year, DARPA intends to spend up to about $4.5 million to sponsor short-term feasibility demonstrations of innovative concepts, according to the Sept. 4 document. DARPA says the conventional methods for extracting hydrocarbon fuels from coal “are extremely expensive to implement, consume large amounts of water, and produce unacceptable amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other pollutants.” Desired are “environmentally friendly, yet efficient” conversion methods. The Air Force, as the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, has been the driving force nationally in advancing alternative fuel technologies in order to help wean the US off of its dependence on foreign sources of energy. The service has also been trying to foster a viable domestic supplier base for aviation jet fuel derived at least in part from coal. As part of this, it has been certifying its aircraft to operate on a fuel mix that includes synthetic kerosene that is presently derived from natural gas, but could also be yielded from coal.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.