Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fill up the B-52 with Synthetic Fuel

The YB-52 (serial No. 49-0231) took off for the first time on April 15, 1952 from the Boeing Company Field in Seattle.[1] Designed in 1948, this long-range heavy bomber was originally intended as an atomic-bomb carrier capable of reaching the Soviet Union. But it has proved highly adaptable and has remained in service as a conventional bomber, cruise-missile carrier, and maritime reconnaissance platform. Its adaptability to different mission capabilities, ability to accommodate different bomb loads made it a legend, even though its pilots called it BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow).

Over the years, the B-52 Stratofortress has been modified to incorporate ever more advanced weaponry with immense weight as well as global positioning and electro-optical viewing systems.

B-52 runs on sythetic fuel blend

The first B-52 flight using a synthetic fuel-blend fuel occurred September 19, 2006 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The fuel being tested was a 50/50 blend of traditional crude-oil based jet fuel (JP-8) and a synthetic liquid[2] made from natural gas (which eventually will be refined from coal mined in the US. At least it is told so, and the proposed CTL bill promotes that).

For safety reasons only two of the eight engines were allowed to use the synfuel-blend. By the way, the B-52 is reported to have no need for any adaptations to its engines or fuel system to accommodate the test fuel.[3]

On December 15, 2006 a B-52 has flown[4] using that synfuel blend as the only fuel on board, again in Edwards Air Force Base. No discernible difference between flying with JP-8 and synfuel is reported after the six-hour flight.

The next test phase (ongoing) will be cold-weather testing to determine how well the synfuel-blend performs in extreme weather conditions.[5] [at cold temperatures].

it's getting serios

The synthetic fuel tested is produced by Syntroleum which operates a small plant that can produce 70 barrels a day. Gary Gamino of Syntroleum said the company would not know the actual cost of the fuel until a full-scale production plant was built. But he added that the business could achieve acceptable returns if crude oil prices were higher than $50 a barrel. Note that the Air Force paid about $20 a gallon for the prototype fuel.[6]

Syntroleum, a leader in Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology, announced on 27 June 2006 that it has signed a contract to deliver 100,000 gallons of FT synthetic fuel to DoD. The fuel will be used for research and development and performance testing of military turbine applications, highlighted by a B-52 flight demo. The DoD seeks up to 200 million gallons of alternative synthetic aviation fuel[7] by 2008 and wants to help create a commercial market for the fuel.

The Air Force has already requested the assistance of the Defense Energy Support Center, in surveying industry to identify market conditions needed to produce that amount beginning in 2008. In facts, Air Force intends to have half of its aviation fuel come from domestically supplied alternative fuel sources by 2016 (through synthetic fuels).

Money, money, money

Even though fuel cost is a serious concern than fuel availability, the military will always get whatever oil it needs. That is why I guess for the military cost comes first. At least I thought so...

The B-52 guzzles about 46,000 gallons in a single mission, if it consumes all its fuel. Today, that's $106,000 a fill-up (based on 30 January 2007 DESC standard price). If you fill up the tanks with 50% JP8 and 50% synthetic fuel, then you it costs $300,000. Also note that B-52 would fly less hours with synfuel blend than conventional JP-8.

This whole story reminds me of poetic phrase of Muhammad Ali: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Notes:
[1] Development of the B-52: The Wright Field Story by Lori S. Tagg. History Office, Aeronautical Systems Center, Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio 45433, 2004. See also Walter J. Boyne, The B-52 Story, Air University Review, November-December 1982.
[2] synthetic fuel or synfuel.
[3] Laura M. Colarusso, Alternative fuels in jets’ future: Officials say move may reduce costs, limit reliance on foreign oil sources, Times, 22 May 2006.
[4] Piloted by a two star general.
[5] B-52 flight uses synthetic fuel in all eight engines, Air Force Link news. 15 December 2006.
[6] Peter Pae, Air Force to Try Out a New Kind of Jet Fuel, Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2006.
[7] The Air Force envisions purchasing up to 100 million gallons and the Navy another 100 million gallons.

Tags: US Military, US Air Force, JP-8, B-52, Synthetic fuel

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1 Comments:

At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

Thanks for your nice post!

 

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