US Air Force starts construction of an alternative jet fuel facility and evaluates switch to commercial Jet A fuel
Testing of the flash point temperature in a sample of commercial Jet A fuel while preparing to measure the concentration of fuel system icing inhibitor in another sample in the Aerospace Fuels Laboratory (photo: USAF)
Thu 12 Nov 2009 – The US Air Force has started construction of a new $2.5 million research facility to help produce alternative jet fuels derived from coal or biomass. The new Assured Aerospace Fuels Research facility at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio will be able to produce 15 to 25 gallons a day of jet fuel so that the Air Force does not have to rely on outside commercial industry for supply. The 4,000-square-foot (372sq.m) facility is expected to be completed towards the end of next year. Meanwhile, in order to simplify the fuel supply chain and save money, the US Air Force Petroleum Agency has announced it will conduct demonstrations to use commercial aviation Jet A fuel instead of military standard JP-8. The US Department of Transport reports the average cost of Jet A fuel has fallen 41 percent from a year ago, with demand dropping 6.7 percent.
Tim Edwards of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB said the new facility would allow the Air Force to expand its fuel research capability into the alternative fuel arena and become a valuable resource for the whole aviation industry.
Research is being done in collaboration with the University of Dayton Research Institute, other military branches, the state of Ohio and the US Department of Energy. Edwards said he expected many graduate students from different universities to use the facilities and there would be collaboration with industry.
The amount of fuel created over a couple of days will be enough to test a small engine, and the ability to produce its own research fuel will save the Air Force money, he said. “We have found that if you want to get 500 gallons of a test fuel, it can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars a gallon from a commercial facility.”
Meanwhile, Air Force demonstrations of Jet A fuel versus JP-8 military fuel will start during the next few weeks at four airbases, which each have C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III or C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The Air Force Petroleum Agency’s (AFPA) Chief Scientist, Mel Regoli, said the primary difference between JP-8 and commercial Jet A is that the specification for the latter does not require corrosion or icing inhibitor additives and has a slightly higher freezing point. The Air Force began using JP-8 in the late 1970s in Europe for aircraft as well as tactical ground vehicles and electrical generators. By 1996, the continental US and the Pacific Air Force bases had converted to JP-8. During the demonstrations, suppliers can put Jet A fuel into shared pipelines without having to worry about comingling as they have to do with JP-8, according to Master Sgt. Danny Walker, AFPA’s Jet A Initiative Program Manager. By eliminating the need for a specialty fuel like JP-8 and using a more readily available Jet A, refineries and fuel depots will be able to reduce infrastructure costs and save money. AFPA estimates the annual savings at $40 million.
Sergeant Walker said he expects a relatively seamless transition since many aircraft already use Jet A. “US Air Force aircraft routinely use Jet A from commercial airports, and their operating checklists allow use of Jet A as an alternate fuel.”
Another part of the initiative is sponsoring research that may lead to a reduction or elimination of certain military additives.
One of the key parts of the demonstration is the ability to add military-specific fuel additives into Jet A prior to use. By injecting fuel system icing inhibitor – the most expensive of the military fuel additives, and also a hazardous chemical – further forward in the supply chain, the quantities can be reduced by nearly 60%, said AFPA’s Mike Nelson.
The demonstrations are set to run for 12 months, following which an independent agency will take all the data gathered and perform a business case analysis. Afterwards, AFPA and Defense Energy Support Center officials will carry out a review to determine a future course of action.
The US Department of Transport reports that the average fuel cost for US scheduled flights fell 41% in September from a year ago to $2 per gallon. Total fuel consumption in September was 1.28 billion gallons, down 6.7% from a year earlier as carriers continue to cut back capacity.