Patterico's Pontifications


The Aviation Fuel of the Future

Filed under: Environment,General — DRJ @ 10:39 am

[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.


18 Responses to “The Aviation Fuel of the Future”

  1. I bet they will find a better way to process the fuel. After all, this is America doing what it does best: Solving problems.

    No, I think I have been told that nothing good can happen — especially in terms of environmental protection — unless the government gets involved by setting mandates and subsidizing the process. This new fuel won’t possibly work until we throw money at some bureaucracy and legislatively strangle a few businesses.

    JVW (13af87)


    krazy kagu (1f0194)

  3. A long look back (well, only 60 years)…
    At the end of WW-2, a very large part of what remained of the German war machine was operating on synthetic fuels and lubricants due to the loss of oil supplies from the Caucasus’ and Ploesti.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  4. Oh, you can make synthetic fuels out of just about any kind of coal or hydrocarbon-rich shale. The reason it has not been done so far is the cost. The Nazis had the benefit of slave labor and desperation. We’ll see if OPEC prices itself out of the market.

    nk (c87736)

  5. Speaking of slave labor, we just might decide to keep those twenty million or so illegal immigrants should we go to producing synthetic fuel. (I know, I know, it’s inconsistent with what I’ve said before but a very nice Mexican lady at the parking garage waived the parking fee because I only stayed there for 10 minutes. 😉 )

    nk (c87736)

  6. Letters, you’ll get letters…

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  7. Letters, you’ll get letters…

    She was a very charming lady with a beautiful smile, but I am happily married and I doubt that there’s no other man out there smart enough to have already caught her. 😉

    nk (c87736)

  8. It’s simply amazing the variety of fuel, or fuel blends a modern jet engine can use. The trick is to create a blend that meets fuel consumption and reliability standards. Imagine if your 100,000 lb of blend fuel can only carry you 75% the range comparing to the full JP8 fuel. That’s not good. You know the commercial carriers will jump at this when the fuel is certified for their particular engines. They rather wait for the Air Force to spend the money.
    Can’t wait to get the fuel surcharge off my next ticket.

    pv (427854)

  9. Oh, you can make synthetic fuels out of just about any kind of coal or hydrocarbon-rich shale. The reason it has not been done so far is the cost.

    Recent breakthroughs in Israel have brought the effective cost of shale produced oil down to the mid $20s a barrel AND the residue can be burned in a powerplant

    Dan Kauffman (b31cae)

  10. Now, if we can only discover shale/tar-sand oil in some Third-World shit-hole to exploit.
    Can’t be digging this stuff up in the pristine wilderness of good old Amerika (a little 60’s speak I slip into now & then).

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  11. Another Drew (10):
    No need for the third world on this one, we have good old Kanada. Alberta is full of oil sands and exploitation thereof is booming.

    Person of Choler (f0e350)

  12. Cal 42, Air Force 36. Woo Hoo!!!

    aunursa (090908)

  13. Aunura,

    Did you see the videoclip where General Petraeus thanked and congratulated both teams, and at the end he said “Go Falcons, and Go Golden Bears”? Very classy move to show support for a team affiliated with that unspeakably horrible city in the East Bay.

    JVW (13af87)

  14. JVW,

    Yes, I expected him to cheer on the military academy, but I nearly fell out of my chair when he added support for their opponent.

    To be fair, the University is much more conservative than the City. Also, the typical Cal football fan bears no relation to the leftists typically associated with UC Berkeley. I would imagine that if you surveyed Cal football fans, they would represent the entire mainstream political spectrum. By contrast, most of the hippies / 60’s regenerates / anti-war protestors hate the Cal athletics program and oppose at every turn. They are, for the most part, supporting the City and opposing the University in the matter of stadium upgrades. (The University is attempting to replace a grove of trees in order to build a high performance athletic center and improve the football stadium. The City has filed a lawsuit to prevent the upgrade.)

    aunursa (090908)

  15. I am throwing down a bullshit flag on the cost.

    If oil is $100 a barrel, and a mix that is 50% oil is $40 a barrel (they said $40 – $75), how much does the other component cost?

    Even if the mix was $75 per barrel, the other component would have to be $50 per barrel, half the world market cost of oil. Liquid energy is pretty fungible – jets and diesels will burn just about anything.

    TomHynes (6c3e12)

  16. PoC…
    I am aware of the oil assets in Alberta, but I would never call our northern neighbors a Third-World shit-hole (I’m trying to keep Christoph’s BP under control). Plus, if we get them mad at us, they might cut off the oil – they are the largest source of foreign oil IIRC, followed by Mexico, Venezuela, and then the Saudi’s.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  17. I Googled, and the stuff is actually pretty expensive:

    Tulsa, Okla.-based Syntroleum Corp. produced the synthetic fuel used in the Air Force’s B-52 trials over the past year. The Air Force said it spent $5 million on the tests, including some $2 million on the fuel, which worked out to about $20 a gallon.
    $20 per gallon fuel

    It may go down to about $4 per gallon over the next year:

    Billings said the coal-based synthetic fuel to be tested in the C-17 and B-1 over the next year was purchased in Malaysia, from Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

    The Air Force said it paid $1.3 million for 290,000 gallons of the fuel, 9,000 gallons of which will go to NASA for emissions testing.

    TomHynes (6c3e12)

  18. Dilithiun crystals would do good

    krazy kagu (aef0eb)

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