The United States Air Force has decided to push development of a new type of fuel to power its bombers and fighters, mixing conventional jet fuel with fuels from nonpetroleum sources that could eventually limit military dependence on imported oil.
The decision will open a contest between fuel refiners and other companies to produce a jet fuel composed of no more than 50 percent petroleum. The plan is to be announced at the Paris Air Show by the secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne; the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Marion C. Blakey; and other American officials.
\ufffdThe goal is to certify the entire fleet by 2010 with a 50-50 mix,\ufffd said Paul Bollinger, an Air Force official who is working on a shift to synthetic fuels.
That may be out of reach, but at the same time the commercial aviation industry also appears to be swinging behind synthetic fuels, for different reasons.
While airlines are reacting to political pressure and a desire to use less fuel, the Air Force wants to be certain that fuel is always available during a conflict or domestic crisis. It also hopes to ease the impact of rapidly rising international oil prices. The Air Force burned 3.2 billion gallons of aviation fuel in fiscal 2005, or 52.5 percent of all fossil fuel used by the government, federal statistics show.
The enthusiasm of both civil and military fliers has raised the incentive for the energy industry to produce cleaner fuels rapidly, and various companies have approached airlines with proposals. But there are no quick and easy solutions.
Today\ufffds most popular alternative fuel, made from corn, is not suitable for use in aviation. \ufffdCorn doesn\ufffdt have the B.T.U.\ufffds for jet fuel,\ufffd Mr. Bollinger said, referring to the British thermal unit, a measure of energy. Richard L. Altman, executive director of an industrywide group called the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, said fuels would most likely be developed in three phases, beginning with a focus on creating liquid fuels from nonrenewable resources like coal and natural gas.
An Air Force B-52 bomber flew a successful test earlier this year on a blend of jet fuel and fuel produced from natural gas. Sasol of South Africa and Shell Oil Products have been certified to supply fuel blends for tests.
The problem is that these fuels can produce even more carbon dioxide than petroleum-based fuels.
It's an important topic and one that doesn't have a simple solution.