Hydro Racing

Hydroplane fills up on biofuel at WSU

When the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto hydroplane hits the water this weekend, its engine will be the only one in the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup burning biofuel.

The fuel came from Scott Carson, chairman of the Washington State University Board of Regents and former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

On Wednesday, he told the Herald that the fuel was meant for the "Great Scott" U-22 Webster Racing hydroplane, which he sponsors. But an accident in a Detroit race two weeks ago will keep the boat from competing.

So instead, the Oberto team will fit its hydroplane with a new fuel control to handle the biofuel, which will be mixed with petroleum jet fuel in a 1-5 ratio.

The biofuel, made from the oil-rich seeds of a plant called jatropha, costs more than $100 per barrel to make -- 10 times more than petroleum jet fuel, he said.

The fuel may be expensive, but its use in a competitive boat race demonstrates how far biofuel research has come, he said.

Carson and other biofuel proponents took advantage of the weekend's boat races Wednesday to showcase research being done in the Tri-Cities to develop biofuel technology that could compete with petroleum fuel.

The Fueling for Follies event at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland brought together hydroplanes, racers and biofuel researchers for entertainment and education.

Keith Thomsen, assistant director of the WSU Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy told the Herald the center has sent samples of its biofuel to be tested by Boeing and the military.

The biofuel they are researching can be made from any organic material, such as the stems and chaff from wheat or pulp from wood, he said.

"This is possible because the fundamental process that we use (to make biofuel) recognizes that all biomass consists of the same basic building blocks," he said.

The fuels are designed to act exactly like petroleum fuel, so they can be put into engines built for petroleum without the need for any modifications, he said.