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USNA Research Team Develops New Method to Analyze Surrogate Jet Fuel

  POSTED ON: Friday, April 10, 2020 1:55 PM by

With approximately 3,600 aircraft and 125 ships in the U.S. Navy’s fleets, fuel is becoming an increasingly critical expense. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. military purchased more than 94 million barrels of fuel in 2019, costing approximately $12 billion.

Recent research by Dr. Dianne J. Luning Prak, a USNA Chemistry department professor, and her team, could provide the necessary tools to find more cost-effective fuel options for the future. The team developed a new analytical method designed to measure important fuel properties that apply to a real engine, enabling them to better explain how fuels combust.

“If we happen to be refueling in ports where they allow alternative fuels to be mixed with their petroleum-based fuels, these fuels may adversely affect our engine performance,” said Luning Prak. “Trying to understand under what conditions these fuels can be used will make the Navy a more capable force.”

Luning Prak’s work with the Navy started in 1999, where she worked as a post-doctoral student at the Naval Research Lab in Washington D.C. She joined the USNA faculty in 2001, and is currently working in the Chemistry department.

“Since I was young, I was interested in environmental issues,” said Luning Prak. “We started looking at alternative fuels for the Navy under the Great Green Fleet Initiative. Fuels is an important expense that the Navy has, so the research we’re doing can benefit the Navy.”

The Great Green Fleet was a carrier strike group that deployed in 2016, using alternative fuel sources such as nuclear power and a blend of advanced biofuel made from beef fat and traditional petroleum. According to the United States Fleet Forces Command, the initiative was intended to usher in the next era of U.S. Navy energy innovation.

“By looking at these different sources of energy, we’ll understand in what way the Navy can use their resources to get the job done effectively,” said Luning Prak.

To highlight their research, co-authors Luning Prak, Cmdr. David Durkin, a USNA Chemistry department permanent military professor, Dr. Matthew Foley, a Naval Academy Prep School instructor, Dr. Paul Trulove, a USNA Chemistry department professor, Dr. Jim Cowart, a USNA mechanical engineering professor, and Midshipman 1st Class Ladavish Dorn, a USNA chemistry major, published the article "Determining the Thermal Properties of Military Jet Fuel JP-5 and Surrogate Mixtures Using Differential Scanning Calorimetry/Thermogravimetric Analysis and Differential Scanning Calorimetry Methods.”

Dorn and other midshipmen performing biofuels research for the article were able to measure properties of fuels from a variety of non-petroleum sources such as algae, camelina, and cellulose. Using this new method, the team believes the Navy can more effectively understand how new fuels combust in a real diesel engine.

“When midshipmen conduct research, they are working very closely with the faculty members and receive more one-on-one mentorship,” said Durkin. “Yes, they have the opportunity to develop solutions to complex problems that are relevant to the military, but the impact to their overall development is more intangible than the actual research experience. Therefore, I believe getting them involved at every level in research is critical to their development as leaders.”

As a co-author, Dorn, collected and validated data and performed lab tests incorporating the new method.

“The interaction between midshipmen and faculty is especially important with this research because it is very much hands-on,” said Dorn. “I am still in awe that I was able to work with such a great team whose years of diligence and passion for this subject is now being highlighted.”

The American Chemical Society selected the article as a supplementary journal cover to be featured on their “Energy and Fuels” website, accompanied by artwork created by the authors.

“Being selected to submit a supplementary journal cover is an honor,” said Luning Prak. “Having our cover selected means that people can see important work that midshipmen and faculty are doing in the scientific community.”

To read the article, visit

As the undergraduate college of our country's naval service for 175 years, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.