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US Air Force Certifies 50% Blend of Fischer-Tropsch and JP-8 Fuel for all B-52H Aircraft; All Airframes to be Certified by 2011

The US Air Force has certified a 50:50 blend of Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuel and JP-8 for use on all B-52H aircraft. The announcement by Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne marked the formal conclusion of testing on this aircraft. The Air Force plans to test and certify every airframe to fly on a domestically produced synthetic fuel blend by early 2011.

The B-52H was chosen as the test platform because of key advantages such as its eight engines. The fuel system can simultaneously isolate, carry and manage both a test fuel and the standard JP-8 fuel. (Earlier post.)

It causes angst to know that we’re faced with a commodity that some might use against us. We want to provide our nation a look forward to something else and to essentially join with numerous researchers who are looking for alternatives whether it is ethanol, switch grass, biomass or Fischer-Tropsch and finding the solution. I think it is going to be a tremendous partnership across the board.

—Secretary Wynne

The Secretary said that one of the things planners are looking for is a clean coal-to-liquids process.

It may involve several manufacturing steps to essentially neutralize carbon usage and get us to what we want. We want a synthetic blend that will not interrupt the flow of fuel in our aircraft and airfields and will be a viable substitute.

—Secretary Wynne

A 50 percent blend appears to be the right answer, Wynne said, noting that for many years it is going to be very difficult to get more than a 50/50 blend on a real basis and not in a laboratory.

The next aircraft to be certified for FT fuel is the C-17 Globemaster III.

This will be a bridge into the commercial arena. We are being watched by many of our airline colleagues who are not only partnering with us, but researching our data. We have developed a rigorous process to qualify this fuel and any manufactured, processed synthetic fuel and blend.

—Secretary Wynne

The Air Force manual is being rewritten to highlight that there is a process to qualify alternative fuels within the Air Force, he said.



This decision could be a force for good or evil. Good if it encourages FT processing of biomass and gets costs down. Bad if it helps CTL get a foothold with the carbon capture aspect left until 'maybe later'.

If BTL fuel makes it to commercial aviation it will keep planes in the air when oil supplies have dwindled, though with fewer flights.

Rafael Seidl

@ Aussie -

the immediate objective is to keep the US armed forces viable even if there should be a major oil supply crisis due to political instability in Saudi Arabia or other OPEC countries, in addition to Iraq. It's not coincidental that the B-52 was chosen as the first aircraft to be certified. Expect tanks and ships to follow before long.

That xTL fuels should work is hardly surprising, the Nazis used them extensively during WW2. Also, RAF Spitfires flew on butanol produced from coal. However, the technology of the day was hugely inefficient and polluting. The South Africans improved on it during the apartheid years, but CTL still generates more CO2 per gallon of product than all other options.

The point of the certification program is therefore to ensure that the US armed forces' existing inventory, which was designed to run on dino-juice, will not be harmed by a switch to alternative, more expensive synthetic fuel grades should that become an acute national security requirement. If push did come to shove, coal would almost certainly win out over the alternative xTL feedstocks gas, oil sand/shale, waste and biomass simply because it's cheap and the US has vast amounts of it.

At least Sec. Wynne and others recognize that CTL is not a desirable option in the absence of carbon sequestration technology - which could well make BTL competitive.


I was just reading about LCFS (Low Carbon Fuel Standards) and wonder if such a switch is an improvement in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per mega joule of energy or whether this is only a short term strategic move?

"Short term, Sherman, because climate change is destabilizing."

"Where are we going today, Mister Peabody?"


At the moment, FT-fuel is made from coal, which is obviously not so green. on the other hand, the feedstock for FT-Fuel could be any hydrocarbon-source, like agricultural waste, wood pellets, algae, plastic waste, manure, ...
If (nuclear, solar,...) hydrogen is added to the carbon-sourse, the yield of FT-fuel is greatly increased.
So if the actual FT-fuel is certified to be good enough for jet-fighters, the greener FT-fuel will also be good enough.
This is the first step to prove the practicality of FT-fuel in jet engines. Once proven and produced on an industrial scale, changing the feedstock is a relatively minor technical obstacle.
Financial incentives will probably be needed, but by then, the public will be ready for it. It's a good thing the technology is developed now, so that when the politics are done, a fast change of industrial practice can be obtained, since the technology will be ready.

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