Air Force To Perform First Supersonic Flight Using Synthetic Fuel Blend

Air Force To Perform First Supersonic Flight Using Synthetic Fuel Blend
March 19th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Air Force To Perform First Supersonic Flight Using Synthetic Fuel Blend

Air Force To Perform First Supersonic Flight Using Synthetic Fuel Blend
March 18, 2008 By Katherine McIntire Peters
On Wednesday afternoon, Air Force leaders expect that a B-1B Lancer at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, will take to the skies and demonstrate that a blend of conventional jet propellant, known as JP-8, and synthetic fuel made from gasified coal can work just as well as JP-8 alone to push the bomber across the sound barrier. The test is the latest in a series the Air Force is conducting to certify its entire air fleet to use the 50/50 fuel blend.
The Air Force considers the alternative fuel program central to future operations. More than half of the Defense Department petroleum consumption, which itself accounts for 90 percent of the fuel used by the entire federal government, is burned up as jet fuel.
The Defense Department estimates that every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil results in operating cost increases of $1.3 billion. By supplementing regular jet fuel with synthetic fuel, military leaders hope to drive down costs and reduce the service's dependence on foreign suppliers.
The B-1 bomber test is significant because it will be the first demonstration of a supersonic flight using synthetic fuel. The four-engine test will take about four hours and will examine how the fuel reacts in the afterburners, said Kevin Billings, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for energy, environment, safety and occupational health.
Last December, the Air Force completed the first transcontinental flight with a C-17 transport aircraft using the same fuel blend following successful tests in 2006 with the B-52 bomber aircraft.
The Air Force hopes to have the entire fleet certified for the fuel blend by 2011. "By 2016, we're looking to buy half of our aviation fuel [used in the continental United States] as a 50/50 blend," Billings said. "That would be 400 million gallons of fuel."
It's difficult to speculate what kind of savings that would generate for the Air Force. While the aviation industry is conducting similar tests on commercial aircraft, there is not yet a viable consumer market for synthetic fuels. The fuel used in the Air Force test is provided by Shell Oil Co. and manufactured in Malaysia, Billings said.
"Savings is a function of the price of oil," Billings said. "Right now, there are predictions that if coal-to-liquids were to be a viable market force, they would be competing at the same level as petroleum products. My guess is that the greater supply of fuel is going to drive [prices] down, but how much is hard to say."
A key hurdle for the Air Force and other potential users of synthetic fuel is likely to be the production process itself, which now generates more greenhouse gases than conventional petroleum refining.
The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, which President Bush signed into law last December, prohibits federal agencies from purchasing alternative fuels that generate more greenhouse gases over the course of their lifecycle than conventional petroleum fuels. Some House lawmakers now want to overturn the provision, contained in section 526, because it could limit Defense Department fuel purchases in the future.
"We don't have a problem with it," Billings said. "The Air Force has always stated that when we buy our synthetic fuels in commercial quantities, we will require that those be greener than the JP-8."
The real concern, Billings said, will be to define life-cycle emissions standards. "There's going to be a lot of work done by the [Environmental Protection Agency] to come up with a standard so everybody can understand what the baseline is and what you have to do to meet it."

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