Sunday, November 11, 2007

Coal Based Synthetic Fuel for USAF Aircraft

In accordance with the Secretary of the US Air Force's Assured Fuels Initiative, all Air Force aircraft will be tested and certified to fly on a domestically-produced synthetic fuel blend by early 2011. So far USAF has fully certified B-52 bombers[1] on the synfuel blend on 8 August 2007 after completing extensive lab and ground tests.

Air Force has started synfuel tests on the C-17 cargo jet in October 2007. The goal is to fully certify the C-17s by early 2008. The B-1 bomber will begin ground tests of the synthetic fuel blend in November, and will initiate an evaluation of afterburner/augmenter engines. After aircraft and helicopters the tests are expected to be conducted on Humvees.

The Global Reach Combined Test Force began testing a C-17 Globemaster III using a Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuel blend (50% synthetic fuel and 50% conventional JP-8) in Edwards Air Force Base (California) on October 18, 2007. Ground testing involved running the auxiliary power unit and the running engines up to maximum take-off power.

Flight tests started on October 19, 2007. On that day a C-17 flew with the FT/JP-8 blend (weighed about 30,000 pounds) in one tank. On October 22, another flight test was performed with the same blend in all four fuel tanks (120,000 pound fuel). In the next step the engine will be taken apart and analyzed.

Note that the C-17 engines are very similar to those used in commercial aircrafts. For example, Boeing 757 airliner uses the same engine as a C-17. That is why commercial airlines are following the tests closely. Moreover they are interested in the domestic production of synthetic aviation fuels. Billionaire Richard Branson has signed up to work with aerospace giant Boeing on synthetic fuels and reducing carbon emissions.

Boeing has recently released a paper entitled Alternate Fuels for use in Commercial Aircraft providing insights into Boeing’s view on aviation fuel in the future. The paper states that future mid-term aircraft may use a bio-jet and synthetic fuel blend in ultra-efficient airplane designs, the pros and cons.

The C-17 tests used a Shell blend fuel, while the previously conducted tests on B-52 used a blend from Syntroleum Corporation. The 100,000 gallons of synthetic fuel purchased last year for tests using a B-52 bomber came from Syntroleum Corporation. The Air Force is reported to spent $5 million on the tests, including some $2 million on the fuel, which worked out to about $20 a gallon.[2]

In 2007, the Air Force paid $1.3 million for 290,000 gallons of the fuel, 9,000 gallons of which will go to NASA for emissions testing. This means $4.5 per gallon (This sounds very cheap to me).

Check also my previous remarks on USAF Synthetic Fuel Tests


Rising fuel costs tighten Air Force belt which will have impact on Flying Hour Program budget. This budget is expected to be reduced by 10 percent each year from fiscal 2008 to 2013. Does that make sense to spend enormous sum of money on synthetic fuel and cut flying hours?

The USAF has a goal of obtaining 50% of continental United States aviation fuels from domestically produced synthetic fuel blends by 2016. This equates to approximately 400 million gallons of synthetic fuel. That sounds good, I mean using domestic sources. But the problem is how to get the coal based synthetic fuel. Coal-based synthetic fuel to be tested in the C-17 and B-1 was purchased in Malaysia, from Shell. Malaysia?? The whole idea was to produce fuel from domestic sources, no? I couldn’t verify that the fuel was purchased from Shell Malaysia though. I hope it is not correct. In my country we use the word “insane” for such a situation.

Many entrepreneurs are looking forward to going to coal-derived synthetic fuel business with the hope that price guarantees and long-term contracts are approved by the Congress. Tests at the Air Force showed that synthetic fuel burns much cleaner and emits no sulfur dioxide and pollutes much less than conventional JP-8. USAF officials always mention that as an advantage. They unfortunately never mention that a full-cycle assessment from mine-to-turbine would not prefer synthetic fuel derived from coal. Converting coal into liquid fuel through the Fischer-Tropsch process creates 1.8 times more carbon (than refining petroleum). Why the Pentagon still ignore EROEI concept?

By the way, I have to mention a few lines about Syntroleum

In July 2007, Syntroleum has signed a contract to provide 500 gallons of synthetic jet fuel made produced entirely from fats, using the company’s recently announced Biofining™ technology to the DOD.

Syntroleum Corporation announced on November 8, 2007 that it has successfully completed a demonstration of its proprietary technology designed to convert coal into clean synthetic liquid fuels. The test run utilized synthesis gas produced from coal and Syntroleum's proprietary cobalt catalyst technology in the conversion process.

The demonstration proved that fuels made from coal have the same superior synthetic Fischer-Tropsch (FT) qualities as those made from natural gas. See Syntroleum’s white paper addressing details and results of the coal synthesis gas test.

In the paper it is stated that “Coal represents a major energy source that can be transformed into transportation fuels and chemical feedstocks. The United States has the world’s largest coal reserves with an estimated 270 billion recoverable tons1. Converting 5 percent of the U.S. coal reserves to Fischer-Tropsch (FT) fuels would equal the existing U.S. crude reserves of 22 billion barrels. It is possible to essentially double the nation’s domestic motor fuel supply through the application of coal-to-liquids (CTL) technology.” Note that the calculation assumes a conversion factor of 1.75 bbl FT distillate per ton coal.

My question to Syntroleum: Do you really believe what you say? If you believe, do you really think that it is a solution?

Tags: US Air Force, JP-8, B-52, C-17, Synthetic fuel


Post a Comment

<< Home