The US Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic fuel that could become a cheaper fuel-alternative for the entire US military and even commercial aviation, officials say.
As the cost of a barrel of oil approaches $100 and US reliance on foreign oil sources grows, the Air Force, the single biggest user of energy in the US government, wants to find a cheaper alternative. Air Force officials think they may have found it in a fuel that blends the normal JP-8 fuel, currently used for the military's jet engines, with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas and liquid coal.
The 50-50 blend is less expensive between $40 to $75 per barrel and it burns cleaner than normal fuel. The synthetic fuel is purchased from US-based suppliers and then blended with the military's JP-8 fuel.
"We're making sure the Air Force is ahead of the curve so we can utilize this domestic resource instead of having to be both dependent on foreign sources and send dollars offshore instead of spending the dollars here in the US," says Kevin Billings, a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force helping to oversee the initiative.
Last week, on the 104th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight, the Air Force flew a C-17 Globemaster III from Washington state to New Jersey, the first transcontinental flight using the synthetic fuel. The flight was an attempt to demonstrate that pilots could fly the plane, considered a "workhorse" of the Air Force fleet, using "syn-fuel" without degrading the performance of the plane's engine.
The service hopes to have all its planes certified to run on the fuel within the next five years. And by 2016, the Air Force hopes to meet half their US demand for fuel using the synthetic blend, first used in the 1920s, but further developed during World War II.
So can we call the Air Force "tree huggers?" Or are they just pennie pinchers? Whatever...seems to me their experiments could have serious positive consequences for civilian air travelers like us.