Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Alternative Fuel Blend From 1920s

Tacoma, as represented by McChord AFB, made national news with the transcontinental flight of a C-17 Globemaster III from Tacoma via New York to New Jersey.

The flight, on December 17, 2007, marked the 104th anniversary of powered flight. The C-17 became the third airframe to successfully complete test flights on a 50/50 blend of traditional JP-8 jet fuel and synthetic fuel.

The Air Force is the single largest user of aviation fuel in the federal government, using an estimated 3 billion gallons per year. For every $10 increase of a barrel of oil, it costs the Air Force (surrogates for taxpayers) an additional $610 million for fuel. JP-8 is also commonly used on the battlefield by the Army's and Marines' tactical vehicles and generators as well as respective aircraft.

German chemists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch developed the method for converting carbon-based materials into synthetic fuels at the Kaiser Wilhem Institute during the 1920s. By using a number of chemicals and catalysts, they were able to do in a lab what takes the earth millions of years to do with organic matter. The Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) process costs an estimated $35-$50 less per barrel than its petroleum counterpart. It also has the potential to burn cleaner than JP-8, reducing combustion-related emissions and particulates in the air.

The next step is to have its entire C-17 fleet certified to use the F-T fuel blend, and all USAF aircraft within the next five years. The C-17 uses the Pratt and Whitney F117-100 engine — is expected to fully covert in early 2008. The F117-100 engine is also widely used by the commercial airline industry on aircraft such as the Boeing 757.

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