May 13, 2006


Military Plans Tests in Search for an Alternative to Oil-Based Fuel (THOM SHANKER, 5/13/06, NY Times)

When an F-16 lights up its afterburners, it consumes nearly 28 gallons of fuel per minute. No wonder, then, that of all the fuel the United States government uses each year, the Air Force accounts for more than half. The Air Force may not be in any danger of suffering inconveniences from scarce or expensive fuel, but it has begun looking for a way to power its jets on something besides conventional fuel.

In a series of tests — first on engines mounted on blocks and then with B-52's in flight — the Air Force will try to prove that the American military can fly its aircraft by blending traditional crude-oil-based jet fuel with a synthetic liquid made first from natural gas and, eventually, from coal, which is plentiful and cheaper. [...]

"Energy is a national security issue," said Michael A. Aimone, the Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 13, 2006 6:10 PM

I'm not sure, but this sounds like the fuel is made by the Fischer-Tropsch process. If that is indeed the case, the process is decades--if not nearly a century--old.

Posted by: Nobrainer at May 13, 2006 6:23 PM

The Germans made their aviation fuel from coal in WW2. This is jet fuel. I do not think Fischer-Tropsch was ready by the time the war ended.

This might be of interest:

The bottom line is that there are lots of ways to make liquid fuel for combustion engines. Oil is the most efficient right now but if that changes known substitutes exist and market incentives will bring them online with minimal need for government intervention.

Posted by: JAB at May 13, 2006 7:28 PM

Once again, Polemos pater panton.

We recall that the science and technology used to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere, first developed by the Germans to satisfy their military needs, went on to save more lives through the bounty of artificial fertilizer than were lost in war.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 13, 2006 10:13 PM

Some major problems with using synthetic fuels ceases to be with the fuels as much as the turbines themselves. I wish them well in their search but modifying existing high thrust military turbines could end up being the bigger chore.

Posted by: Tom Wall at May 14, 2006 1:15 AM

Getting coal into the fuel mix will provide benefits to the nation far beyond our military.

Energy is a national security issue indeed. Kudo to the USAF. We can support their efforts with a excise tax on gasoline.

Posted by: Genecis at May 14, 2006 8:19 AM

IL is the Magic Kingdom of coal.

Bring it on!

Posted by: Sandy P at May 14, 2006 1:43 PM