Airbus and Shell recently made the first ever commercial flight using liquid fuel processed from gas when an A380 airliner flew from Filton in the UK to the airframer’s Toulouse, France headquarters. The flight marked the start of a program to evaluate the environmental impact of alternative fuels in the airline market.
Congress last month once again extended the FAA’s current authorization and aviation taxes until December 14, making it increasingly unlikely that the question of how to pay for operating the FAA and simultaneously modernizing the entire air traffic system will be settled anytime soon.
Synthetic fuel seems to be the new Holy Grail of air transport. The prospect of oil reserve depletion, the need to curb CO2 emissions and energy security concerns are all encouraging the industry to find a viable alternative to the current jet-A1 kerosene that can be used in current engines.
A small percentage–about 20 percent–of the piston-powered fleet requires 100-octane fuel. Yet these aircraft burn about 70 percent of the total avgas volume, according to Allen Bretz, director of general aviation market at ConocoPhillips.
General Electric’s research arm and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (Darpa) have joined forces to develop an entirely bio-based jet fuel to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The main challenge is to make the conversion process efficient. The project envisions a conversion efficiency, by energy content, of crop oil to JP-8 surrogate of between 60 and 85 percent.
Green Flight International last month conducted the first flight of a jet using 100-percent biodiesel fuel. The experimental test flight was flown by an L-29, a military aircraft that is rated to fly on a variety of fuels, including heating oil, making it a “preferred platform” for testing biodiesel in jet engines.
As oil prices remain above the $60 per barrel mark, operators, oil companies and government regulators are showing ever more interest in alternative jet fuels. At a March 8 speech at the U.S.
A provision in the legislation to reauthorize the nation’s surface transportation programs, known as the Highway Bill, would “drastically alter the way the taxes on jet fuel are collected,” according to the National Air Transportation Association. Under the proposal, jet fuel would be taxed at the same 24.4-cent-per-gallon rate as diesel fuel.
A private fuel farm isn’t right for every operator, but it has worked out well for the flight department at Eastman Chemical, Blountville, Tenn., based at Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TRI). The company has had a flight department since 1957 (flying a DC-3) and now operates a pair of Gulfstream IIs and a GIV-SP.
Airliners now entering revenue service will be around for the next few decades, over which time forecasters expect the cost of kerosene to rise significantly. Higher oil extraction costs and likely carbon dioxide (CO2) emission limits will no doubt radically alter air transport economics. The industry will simultaneously have to drastically reduce CO2 emissions from aircraft engines and find alternative fuels for them.