Synthetic fuels stride toward approval

 - July 28, 2009, 5:48 AM

The prospect of synthetic fuel qualification took an important step closer to reality last month when ASTM International’s aviation fuels subcommittee passed a new specification for alternative jet fuel. The new specification details the properties and criteria required to control the production and quality of synthetic fuels for aviation use. The initial issue of the specification will permit the use of fuels derived from the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process blended with up to 50-percent jet-A.

With the aviation fuels subcommittee’s approval, the standard then moved to
a special ballot by the 2,000 members of the organization’s main petroleum products and lubricants committee. After the 30-day window closes, if there are no negative votes and at least a 60-percent response rate, the measure could be adopted as an official specification as early as this month. Any dissenting votes could cause the matter to stall until the objection is resolved.

The approval of the FT process fuels could be followed by qualification of other formulas.

The synthetic-fuels approval process is supported by both the FAA and the industry-sponsored Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative. According to Nancy LoBue, the FAA’s acting administrator for policy planning and the environment, this specification could lead to the approval of a number of alternative fuels in the next few years, and could help lower aviation’s carbon footprint as part of the NextGen air transportation system plan.

The Airline Transport Association hailed the measure as “a landmark step for all consumers of jet fuel.” Nancy Young, the association’s vice president for environmental affairs, noted, “This is a giant step toward adoption of the first of what promises to be several generic alternative jet fuel blends that will offer commercial aviation a sustainable new fuel dynamic. The airline industry is prepared to be an enthusiastic buyer.” NBAA also applauded the decision and expressed hope that the ASTM will soon follow with a similar specification for biofuels.