USAF Synthetic Fuel

An F-22 Raptor takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 28 to take part in an aerial refueling test using an alternative jet engine fuel -- a first for an Air Force aircraft. The fuel is a 50/50 mix of JP-8 jet fuel and a natural gas-based fuel. (Lockheed Martin photo)

An F-22 Raptor takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 28 to take part in an aerial refueling test using an alternative jet engine fuel -- a first for an Air Force aircraft. The fuel is a 50/50 mix of JP-8 jet fuel and a natural gas-based fuel. (Lockheed Martin photo)

The Air Force’s ongoing testing of coal-based synthetic fuel has been in the news more and more lately, probably due to oil prices. Today, Instapundit points out a recent Popular Mechanics story on the subject.

I’ve been following this for a while, first posting on it in Working the black seam in 2005 and Coal-fired B-52 bombers in 2006, and think this is a great idea.

However, this past spring I pointed out that Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 effectively outlawed the program for fleet use because the production and use of this synthetic fuel creates more greenhouse gas emissions than standard fuel. The fact that the act was for energy independence and security, not environmental feel-good, seems to have escaped someone. The ban allowed for developmental use, so the Air Force continues testing and certifying aircraft to use the new fuel.

There is an effort to repeal the ban, but I don’t think it’s gone anywhere so far. Does anyone know more about the situation? The recent “Gang of 10” energy bill includes this:

Provides grants and loan guarantees for the development of coal-to-liquid fuel plants with carbon capture capability. Plants must have lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions below those of the petroleum fuels they are replacing;

It sounds as if the ability to sequester excess emissions would be required for this to go forward, and that probably wouldn’t violate Section 526. What that does to the cost of producing the coal-based jet fuel and how much it might impact the USAF program, I don’t know.

UPDATE: I fixed the caption on the picture. Also, the image is from AF.mil.

Comments

  1. I suspect the reason for this research is similar to the reason that Nazi Germany was into synthetic fuels.. that if a major war breaks out and the strategic reserve runs dry then synthetic fuel may be the only way to win that war. I guess they’re also hedging their bets in case oil becomes so expensive in future that all their shiny toys become basically useless.

    In some ways this means the US military has more sense than the US congress… then again I suppose that isn’t surprising, you have to have at least some kind of functioning brain to make your way up through the ranks.

  2. I never understood why the US government, and the military specifically, did not undertake a full scale effort to develop alternative fuels ala missile defense. Look at the all the money spent on fuel and on defending fuel stocks around the globe. It only makes sense.

  3. The best way to preserve oil and coal for strategic reserve is to develop high efficiency transportation in the first place. But that doesn’t sell well with oil and coal companies (and their lobbyists) who want to make a buck. So yeah to answer 11Bravo, its about short term money for related interests.

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