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UDRI, AFRL to Open Research-Scale Facility to Develop Synthetic Jet Fuel From Coal and Biomass

With a $10-million seed grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) will collaborate with AFRL to construct and operate the country’s first federal research facility designed to create jet fuel from coal and biomass in a program aimed at creating a viable alternative to petroleum-based fuel.

The award will also fund research into coal- and biomass-derived fuel technologies for greater fuel efficiency and reduced environmental impact.

It will be the first such research facility in the United States, and it will be available for use by any research team in the country. Previously designed systems have concentrated on the production of diesel fuels and chemicals from coal and biomass. Our objective is to define the optimal conditions under which jet fuel should be produced in order to maximize the amount of fuel that can be manufactured from these feedstocks.

—Dilip Ballal, head of UDRI’s Energy and Environmental Engineering division

Phases one and two of the Alternative Aerospace Fuels Research Facility are scheduled to open at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in December. Phases one and two will facilitate the production of jet fuel using a process that starts with steam-reforming of methane.

Successful research in this area could have an added benefit if fuel producers would harness methane from landfills that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.

—Dilip Ballal

Phase three—slated to be up and running early in 2010—will see completion of a research-scale gasifier capable of producing up to 15 gallons of jet fuel per day from coal and biomass. That amount of experimental fuel will be sufficient to study fuel properties and aircraft fuel system capabilities in testing facilities at engine and aircraft manufacturing companies worldwide, in addition to those at the base, according to Ballal.

In addition, the program will be designed to investigate ways to create jet fuel with a carbon footprint well below that produced by current petroleum fuel refineries. Adding even low levels of biomass improves the emissions footprint of the overall process.

In a longer-term goal, researchers hope to minimize the number of additives needed to meet the required performance specifications for jet fuel.

Because the composition of coal varies depending on where in the country it is mined, the fuels research facility will be equipped to produce fuel from various types of coal. The gasifier itself will be designed for optimal performance using Ohio coal, which has relatively high levels of sulfur. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which has been instrumental in securing funding for the program, has also been working to engage Ohio’s coal producers in the project, Ballal said.

The new award, effective 15 May, extends a $31.5 million, five-year cooperative agreement issued in 2003 for improving fuels and combustion technologies for advanced aircraft and aerospace systems—the largest contract awarded to the Research Institute in its 51-year history—and serves in part as seed funding for the gasifier. Additional funding for the gasifier will be pursued later this year from the Air Force, the state of Ohio and other sources.



I would like to put this initiative of the military into the context of some global and irresistible trends.

The projection of military power requires concentrated liquid hydrocarbon fuel to function. Now, that fuel is oil. But in a future conflict, the supply oil could be restricted to the point of military disadvantage. The backup approach is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). But this is subject to attrition and not appropriate for a long conflict. That is why CTL for military use is being developed. The mention of biomass is a prevarication that is currently in vague on this subject.

Biofuel cannot meet the energy needs of power projection because by its nature. It is finite, produced locally over a wide area, and cannot be gathered and transported easily. Therefore, it will be consumed locally. Its production is restricted to harvest time and cannot be easily ramped to meet military contingency.

Likewise, the commercial airlines and the trucking industry are beginning to feel the oil pinch; a sign of the upcoming decline of globalization. Here to CTL will emerge as a solution to this situation to the detriment of global warming. The aforementioned disadvantages of Biofuel apply here to.

John Taylor

Behind the scenes conversation ???

“We are running out of OIL” ... “LETS SWITCH TO COAL”
“Coal is dirty and all the environmentalist want us to green up” ... “OK ADD IN A LITTLE BIOMASS AS A GREENWASH.”
“Got it, now it's 'politically correct' and we can pander to the oil companies with more insane handouts.”
“Here's $10-million to develop new ways to increase the use of fossil fuel and add CO2 to the air so we generate even more global warming. As an added incentive, lets use the High Sulfur coal and get extra acid rain into the bargoon.”

Martin B

South Africa's SASOL already produces synthetic jet fuel from coal.

Sasol’s synthetic jet fuel, produced by its proprietary Coal to Liquids (CTL) process, has received approval for full, unblended use in international commercial aviation. Sasol’s fully synthetic jet fuel (FSJF) is the first such fuel to be approved.

Why are they repeating the research? Is it a case of Not Invented Here?

Sasol 100% CTL Synthetic Jet Fuel Approved for Use Internationally in Commercial Aviation

Brad Godfrey

Because this way they get an extra $10 million

Mark A

How does this process differ from what the Nazis were doing in 1944? Have there been any improvements in efficiencies?


Posted by Mark A:
"How does this process differ from what the Nazis were doing in 1944? Have there been any improvements in efficiencies?"

No, it is exactly the same process, Fischer-Tropsch process first developed in 1924. It is the same process that will be used by the Rangeline Fuels plant in Soperton GA to eventually produce 100 million/gal/year of ethanol from logging and milling waste.
Except in the case of coal, you end up with methanol instead of ethanol, much more toxic to handle, breathe, etc.

This is just another example of the energy monopolies trying to keep thier monopolistic hold on people. I have heard somewhere that they are spending $180 million on the "Clean Coal" campaign to extend the use of coal and fossil fuel(anything derived from coal would also be a fossil fuel). Lots and lots of commercials relaxing forest scenes, birds singing pleasant music---and the announcer assuring everyone that coal companies are SO responsible and working hard to make "clean coal". Bullshit---the only work has been to reduce particulate emmissions from smokestacks----only what everyone can see. Coal dug up out of the ground and burned goes into the atmosphere 100% as new greenhouse gas. Coal still comes out of strip mines, THE most environmentally damaging thing we can possibly be doing. After 50 years of "clean coal technology" you'd think that people catch on that there IS NO SUCH THING! But no, it seems everyone would rather believe the nice commercials with pretty scenery and soothing announcer than the reality of---as the Anvil salesman in the Music Man said:

"There AIN'T no Boys Band!"
"There NEVER WAS no Boys Band!"

"Clean Coal" is a bigger lie than the River City Boys Band.

Making liquid fuel from coal still means strip mines, and monopolies and pollution---it destroys the land forever, leaches acids into the watershed, and creates greenhouse gas.

The funny thing is, it uses the SAME process to make ethanol from wood or any other plant matter. Now which is more efficient? To dig coal up from 200-300 ft underground, or rake up dead plant material off the surface and haul it away?

Of coarse---why should we be surprised? The USAF are the SAME geniuses who brought us the REALLY brilliant plan for MUTUAL ASSURED ANNIALATION---the guiding principle behind the Cold War, the arms race, and nuclear confrontation for 50 years. WE have to build and deploy MORE nuclear weapons because we only have enough to completely destroy the earth 24 times, and the SOVIETS have gotten ahead of us and can wipe out the earth 28 times.


I know there are many people who want to vault from fossil fuel to renewables (I have been one for decades) but the energy reality is that we have a long way to go before we get there. Therefore, it would be good to have the ability to produce fossil fuels from US feed stock in the off chance that someone decides to blow up something in a place that produces much of the world's oil supply.

I am a big fan of having lots of options open. Spending a few hundred million on a trillion dollar problem makes sense to me.

And by the way, I give a lot more credit to the researchers and the military people involved that they are looking out for the interests of our country.


"Biofuel cannot meet the energy needs of power projection because by its nature. It is finite, produced locally over a wide area, and cannot be gathered and transported easily. Therefore, it will be consumed locally. Its production is restricted to harvest time and cannot be easily ramped to meet military contingency."

We can easily collect and transport ethanol, green diesel, green gasoline, etc globally. There is no reason to transport the biomass input beyond the production facility.

Also, the military has plenty of efficiency options including electrification. Biofuels do not have to supply all the military's fuel needs anymore than it needs to displace current civilian petroleum use.


The German Wehrmacht had no problem getting 140 metric tonne Panzer tanks to run on alcohol. Bigger and faster than anything the allies had.

The Luftwaffe had no problem powering V1 and V2 ballistic missles with alcohol.
The Luftwaffe had no problem getting the Me-268 Sparrow in the air as the first operational jet fighter in the world---in fact, they were way ahead of the allies because they were not hindered by the inherent disadvantage of gasoline, they were using alcohol, which is much better suited as an internal combustion fuel.



By the way, who won that war?



A 400 ton coal mover can be loaded by a large capacity shovel in a minute or two. The same amount of carbon equivalent switch grass requires days of mowing and many hay wagon trips to bring it in. War needs scale... the larger the better.

Paul Hunt

Speaking of coal to liquid, heres an awesome article I read where it is being discussed and it seems to be the next step in fuel. Or at least until we can find a safe and green alternative. The article is called The Coal to Liquid Debate and is a great quick read thats related this this one.

Hay production is measured in tons per acre. Typically hay is mowed three to four times a season, year after year, forever.
Switchgrass is hay.

You dig up coal once, it's gone.
And the land is destroyed forever.

Doesn't seem to me to be a hard choice about which is better for us in the long run.


Doesn't seem to me to be a hard choice about which is better for us in the long run.

Better for the civilian not the solder.
You can't hold off a war till harvest time. You have to bomb now, not wait for the harvest moon. Do you get the drift?

Dig up coal and burn it once and it is gone. And the strip mines destroy the land forever.

You can mow hay 3-4 times a season, and hay production is measured in tons per acre. And you can KEEP mowing hay forever.

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