[Guest post by DRJ]
The United States Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic aviation fuel for military and commercial use:
“The US Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic fuel that could become a cheaper fuel-alternative for the entire US military and even commercial aviation, officials say.
As the cost of a barrel of oil approaches $100 and US reliance on foreign oil sources grows, the Air Force, the single biggest user of energy in the US government, wants to find a cheaper alternative. Air Force officials think they may have found it in a fuel that blends the normal JP-8 fuel, currently used for the military’s jet engines, with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas and liquid coal.
The 50-50 blend is less expensive – between $40 to $75 per barrel – and it burns cleaner than normal fuel. The synthetic fuel is purchased from US-based suppliers and then blended with the military’s JP-8 fuel.”
The fuel has been successfully tested in a B-52 Stratofortress bomber and in the C-17 Globemaster III:
“Last week, on the 104th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, the Air Force flew a C-17 Globemaster III from Washington state to New Jersey, the first transcontinental flight using the synthetic fuel. The flight was an attempt to demonstrate that pilots could fly the plane, considered a “workhorse” of the Air Force fleet, using “syn-fuel” without degrading the performance of the plane’s engine.
The flight went well, officials say. “It was completely unremarkable, which is exactly what we wanted to have happen,” says Mr. Billings.
The flight followed a similar demonstration with a B-52 Stratofortress bomber last year. The fuel was then certified for use in the B-52 this summer. The service hopes to have all its planes certified to run on the fuel within the next five years. And by 2016, the Air Force hopes to meet half their US demand for fuel using the synthetic blend, first used in the 1920s, but further developed during World War II.”
The Air Force chose the C-17 for its second test because its engines are similar to those on the Boeing 757, the workhouse of commercial aviation. Military use is only 10% of the aviation market so the synthetic fuel must be commercially viable. As a bonus, the synthetic fuel may also be better for the environment:
“In addition to being cheaper and ultimately more plentiful, synthetic fuel can also be greener, Air Force officials say. The fuel itself burns cleaner than regular JP-8 fuel, but the current process used to make the fuel produces nearly twice the amount of carbon.”
I bet they will find a better way to process the fuel. After all, this is America doing what it does best: Solving problems.