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Sasol Outlines its Process for Fischer-Tropsch US Military Fuel

Comparison of synthetic BUFF fractions for Sasol and Syntroleum JP-5 products.  Click to enlarge. Source: Sasol

The Office of the US Secretary of Defense (OSD) has been working on an Assured Fuels Initiative since 2001, the goal of which is to catalyze commercial industry to produce cleaner-burning fuels for the military from alternative sources—Fischer Tropsch fuels being the primary example. (Earlier post.)

The recent ground- and flight-testing of a B-52 using a 50:50 blend of military JP-8 and a Fischer-Tropsch (FT) version (S-8 from Syntroleum) (earlier post) is a component of the multi-year project, which is beginning to accelerate.  One aspect of the fuels initiative is a program to develop a Joint Battlespace-Use Fuel of the Future (J-BUFF)—a single fuel for all the military’s gas-turbine and tactical diesel engine applications. 

The single battlefield fuel must currently comply with Jet Propulsion 8 (JP-8) or JP-5 fuel specifications. JP-8 is virtually identical to Jet A-1 commercial aviation turbine fuel except for the requirement of additional additives, such as fuel-system-icing inhibitors. The exception to the use of JP-8 is the fuel for use on aircraft carriers, which require conformance to JP-5 specifications. JP-5 is essentially the same as JP-8 but has a higher flash point than JP-8 to provide an additional degree of safety in handling fuels on aircraft carriers.

The Department of Defense invited Sasol Synfuels International (Pty) Ltd. and Sasol Chevron Holdings Ltd., among others, to participate in the program with the objective to supply the DoD with a FT BUFF  conforming to JP-8 and JP-5 fuel volatility and low-temperature fluidity requirements.

Although DoD is more interested in coal-to-liquid (CTL) technology, and possibly biomass-to-liquid (BTL), Sasol used the product from a gas-to-liquid (GTL) Products Work-Up Demonstration Unit in Sasolburg, South Africa, to evaluate (on a bench scale) the possibility of producing a BUFF fraction from the Sasol Slurry Phase Distillate (Sasol SPD) low-temperature FT (LTFT) process and Chevron Isocracking technology.

Sasol concluded from the study that the production of a synthetic FT BUFF is feasible using the Sasol SPD LTFT technology together with the current Chevron isocracking technology. The product yield for a BUFF conforming to JP-8 requirements is 30 vol% of the fractionator feed, whereas the product yield for a BUFF conforming to the JP-5 volatility requirement is slightly less than 22 vol% of the fractionator feed. Sasol reports on the process and the results in an upcoming issue of Energy & Fuels.

Sasol has been providing a semi-synthetic (50:50 blend of petroleum and synthetic fuels) for commercial aviation since 1999; the fuel has been used routinely at Johannesburg International Airport in South Africa.  The company has applied for approval of a 100% synthetic fuel that includes synthetic aromatics. If the test results are acceptable, this fuel could be approved this year.




Well, if you want something done fast, the US military is the way to go. Hopefully they'll choose biomass-to-liquid, otherwise this really doesn't help from an environmental standpoint.


Despite finding yet another way to burn coal and wage war I think this could be positive development. Since ethanol and hydrogen have failed to impress it seems that the fuel of the future will have to come from thermochemical processing of cheap carbonaceous feedstock. Combine that with battery power and there is some hope for keeping at least some of the wheels turning.

Lou Grinzo

And let us not forget for a second what happens to commercial aviation if no economical, environmentally acceptable replacement for petroleum-derived jet fuel is found. That's not a prediction that such a solution won't be found, just a reminder of how high the stakes are in this particular line of research.

The military can keep flying with a substitute fuel that's far more expensive than what they're using today, but airlines would be forced to charge much more for tickets, lose many customers, and then have to downsize dramatically.

Bud Johns

Unfortunatley, war has Historically brought countless innovations and new technologies to the world. Well, unfortunate in the war sense anyway. I hope the military can come even remotely close to the good things that were discovered in WWII..........

richard schumacher

Fossil-derived fuels will become illegal in our lifetimes. Ultimately, liquid hydrocarbon fuels for vehicles will have to be made starting from atmospheric CO2. Note that agriculture and waste organic materials are not required.

Paul Dietz

Ultimately, liquid hydrocarbon fuels for vehicles will have to be made starting from atmospheric CO2. Note that agriculture and waste organic materials are not required.

However, biomass may be the most economical way to obtain carbon from the atmosphere. It's hard to compete with self-reproducing machines.


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Cheryl Ho

There are developments in DME in China today!

We see great potential for DME as a clean alternative fuel . The present diesel oil is a major source of air pollution from diesel engine of trucks and busses in large city like Tokyo. The potential market of diesel oil substitute is larger than LPG. DME is one of ideal fuel for diesel engine. DME vehicles were demonstratively manufactured in Japan, China and Korea and their driving test already started. Practical durability fleet test of a DME truck is under going in Japan.

We are pleased to organise a conference on China taking the lead in the DME market in production from coal and Japan and Korea activities.

If you would like to know more on COAL to Syngas to DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:

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