Air Force flight tests new blend of jet fuel

PUBLICATION: Dayton Daily News (OH)
DATE: December 19, 2006
BYLINE:Timothy R. Gaffney Staff Writer
SECTION: Business

It's a burning issue: How can the military break its dependence on foreign oil for the vast amounts of fuel its jets, ships and land vehicles burn? The Air Force hopes it has the answer in a process that converts natural or synthetic gases into jet fuel. But a small step forward in the Air Force quest came on the same day as a setback for an Ohio group that hopes to makes the state a synthetic fuel supplier.

On Friday, an Air Force crew in California flew a B-52 bomber burning a blend of synthetic and petroleumbased jet fuel in all eight engines. The synthetic fuel was made from natural gas using a process called Fischer-Tropsch. Ultimately, liquid jet fuel could be made using this method from synthetic gases produced from highsulfur coal.

The Defense Department wants to jump-start a U.S.-based synfuel industry by refining the production process and offering itself as a major customer.

It's a big deal for potential jet fuel suppliers. The Air Force alone says it burned 3.2 billion gallons of jet fuel last year.

An Ohio group sees a chance for the state to get an early lead in the new industry. Ohio and the Dayton region already have a stake in it:

  • The research effort is directed by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
  • The University of Dayton Research Institute, Edison Materials Technology Center in Kettering and Applied Sciences of Cedarville are members of a team trying to form the Lima Synthesis Gas Product Commercialization Center. The center would produce synthetic gas from Ohio coal for products including jet fuel.
  • Ohio has vast deposits of high-sulfur coal, which is too polluting for power plants but a good feedstock for the Fischer-Tropsch process.

But the B-52 that flew Friday burned fuel supplied by Syntroleum, a Tulsa, Okla., company that also has its sights set on the synfuel market. Syntroleum is supplying fuel for the test project under an Air Force contract. And the flight test happened on the same day the state of Ohio turned down the Lima team's bid for a $60 million Third Frontier grant to help fund its center.

Stefan Susta, EMTEC's technology transfer director, said the team will press forward to find funds for the Lima center, projected to cost more than $625 million.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2390 or tgaffney@DaytonDaily

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