Friday, September 21, 2007

Remark on USAF Synthetic Fuel Tests

It was more than a month I haven’t post any article. I have read a lot as usual but didn’t have time to write.
First bad news:

The Undersecretary of the Air Force, Dr. Ronald M. Saga, announced on August 30, 2007 that he was resigning his post for a faculty position at Colorado State University. He was known with his efforts on DoD energy consumption, test of synfuel on B-52, and
renewable energy.

Note that in May 2007 Dr. Ted Barna, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, who led the Pentagon’s efforts on synthetic fuels for military use, had joined Integrated Concepts & Research Corporation (ICRC) as manager for that company’s Assured Fuels Initiative programs. Note that the company’s partner Syntroleum is the prime supplier of F-T synthetic fuel derived from natural gas to Air Force B-52 engine test.

I was regularly following the works of those two energy people in the US Department of Defense. Now they are gone. Too bad.
Now Good News?

The US Air Force still insists going ahead with its synthetic fuel ambitions. According to a 435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs report (Secretary discusses alternative fuel initiative) in June 2007 at the 47th International Paris Air Show, the future of jet fuel and rising cost of oil jet fuel were among the topics of keen interest. A press conference held by the Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration Marion Blakey discussed alternative fuel developments that are being created and ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The conference, held aboard a C-17 Globemaster III served as an example of one of the most fuel efficient cargo planes. The Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative formed by many commercial and government sponsors is under way with studies to determine the feasibility, costs, technical issues and environmental benefits of alternative fuel sources.

The U.S. Air Force has already completed testing and approving an interesting alternative fuel, a man-made synthetic, for use in its huge eight-engine Boeing B-52H bombers on Agust 8, 2007. The next military airplane to be certified for the synfuel will be the Boeing C-17 cargo and troop carrier.

A brief note on C-17: The C-17 Globemaster III is the newest, most flexible cargo aircraft. The aircraft is powered by four, fully reversible, Federal Aviation Administration-certified F117-PW-100 engines (the military designation for the commercial Pratt & Whitney PW2040), currently used on the Boeing 757. Maximum payload capacity of the C-17 is 170,900 pounds (77,519 kilograms), and its maximum gross takeoff weight is 585,000 pounds (265,352 kilograms). With a payload of 169,000 pounds (76,657 kilograms) and an initial cruise altitude of 28,000 feet (8,534 meters), the C-17 has an unrefueled range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles. Its cruise speed is approximately 450 knots (.76 Mach).

Since fuel costs and availability are the biggest operating considerations for an airline, "We are being watched by many of our airline colleagues who are not only partnering with us but researching our data," says secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne.

Roger Drinnon from the US Air Mobility Command Public Affairs reports that (C-17 alternative fuel research tests to begin) by 2010, the Air Force goal is to certify all its aircraft to use the fuel blend which mixes JP-8 with synfuel produced using the Fischer-Tropsch process.

"In (the B-52 engine) tests, the use of the alternative fuel blend was found to reduce soot emissions by 30 percent at max power and by 60 percent at idle," said Dr. Tim Edwards, a senior chemical engineer for the Air Force Research Laboratory's Fuels Branch. "Sulfur emissions were reduced by 50 percent. These emissions reductions are due to the very high quality of the Fischer-Tropsch fuel blend component." Although the Fischer-Tropsch process generates excess carbon dioxide, Mr. Erbschloe said he remains confident technologies will emerge soon to capture and store the carbon dioxide generated by the process.

Until more research is done, Fischer-Tropsch fuel is mixed with JP-8 to ensure the fuel contains adequate "aromatics" -- elements found in traditionally-produced fuels and lacking in Fischer-Tropsch fuel, he said. "Aromatics might be a factor in preventing fuel leaks," Mr. Erbschloe said. "It turns out aromatics might help various seals and o-rings expand and seal properly in aircraft engines during operation."

As fuel prices rise, synthetic fuel becomes economically viable with the potential to reduce dependency on foreign energy sources, said Mr. Erbschloe, a former deputy chief operating officer for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

"The goal is to make the cost of synthetic fuel comparable to buying JP-8," he said. Upcoming C-17 tests will be a stepping stone toward improving national energy security as well as toward prompting interest in commercial industry. He said commercial aviation already is working with the Air Force to certify more aircraft to use the fuel blend.

My question is the following: Does Mr. Erbschloe hears what he is saying? I don’t think so.

O.K. First B-52 and now C-17. Please somebody give a calculator to USAF officials. They should make some simple calculations. Multiply the amount of synfuel burned in one hour (gallons per hour) with energy content of synfuel (say, in Btu per gallon). Do the same calculation with conventional JP-8. And now compare them. You need more synfuel for any given distance compared to JP-8. What does that mean? If a B-52 running on synfuel needs an aerial refueling you have to fill it up with synfuel, which requires a flying gas station, say the new KC-X. I know that this synfuel powered B-52’s are not supposed to have any OCONUS mission but just assume. Then you make the same calculation for KC-X. No not finished. Now multiply the amount of fuel burned with the fuel cost. And yet, the USAF talks about efficiency and money saving! Not finished. USAF Wants To Fly on 50% Synfuel by 2016 No more comment your honor!

Tags: Military Energy Consumption, Alternative Fuels, C-17, US Air Force, Synthetic Fuel , B-52, Military Oil Consumption


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