The New York Times reports that the U.S. Air Force will test blending traditional crude oil-based jet fuel with a synthetic liquid made first from natural gas, and, eventually, from coal:
By late this summer, on the hard lake beds of the Mojave Desert, where the Air Force tests its most secret and high-performance aircraft, a lumbering B-52 is scheduled to take off in an experiment in which two of the giant bomber's engines will burn jet fuel produced not from crude oil but from natural gas. The plane's six other engines will burn traditional jet fuel — just in case.
The Air Force uses half of the fuel consumed by the U.S. government. The Air Force's share amounted to 3.2 billion gallons of aviation fuel in fiscal year 2005.
The Air Force consumed 3.2 billion gallons of aviation fuel in fiscal year 2005, which was 52.5 percent of all fossil fuel used by the government, Pentagon statistics show. The total Air Force bill for jet fuel last year topped $4.7 billion.
If the experiments with the synthetic fuel works, the Air Force planes to buy 100 million gallons in the next two years.
According to the Times, oil prices above $40 to $45 per barrel make a blend with synthetic fuels a cost-effective alternative to oil-based jet fuel.
The experimental fuel is being supplied by Syntroleum Corporation, which has provided synthetic fuel for testing by the Departments of Energy, Transportation and Defense since 1998.
The cost per gallon of the test fuel will be expensive. Syntroleum can produce 42 gallons of synthetic fuel from 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas. The raw materials cost about $70. but if the military moves ahead with using the synthetic fuels, the Syntroleum technology could be used by factories elsewhere to produce the same 42 gallons of fuel from just $10 worth of coal.
The Air Force is working with the Automotive Tank Command of the Army, in Detroit, and the Naval Fuels Laboratory. The research could result in a common synthetic fuel for the entire military.
One hundred gallons is a mere drop in the bucket of the 3.2 billion gallons used by the Air Force last year. But it is certainly a step in the right direction.