Feeds

US air force, Boeing press on with alternative jet fuel tests

Virgin scum-jumbo trial next year could rattle Saudis

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Boeing, manufacturer of much of the world airliner fleet, is to test the feasibility of using biofuels derived from non-standard feedstocks in its aircraft. Meanwhile, the US air force effort to develop domestically-supplied fuels continues.

Flight International reports that Boeing's environmental strategy chief, Bill Glover, believes that usable aviation biofuels could be produced from diverse sources around the world.

Algae was specifically mentioned, which may offer an explanation for Shell's recent decision to look again at green-scum seawater fuel farming.

Apparently, Glover can foresee a future economic model where many different biofuel makers using separate methods and feedstocks contribute to the world supply, rather than the present petroleum model fed by a few monolithic global producers.

Speaking to Flight, he likened the coming shift to the distribution of computing power outward from mainframes into PCs.

Meanwhile, on Monday a US air force C-17 heavy transport aircraft flew across America from Washington to New Jersey powered by a synthetic fuel blend produced by the Fischer-Tropsch process. The C-17 was merely the latest USAF plane to be cleared for synthetic juice; the B-52 bomber was the first, during the summer. The service plans to check out its whole fleet over the next few years.

US air force secretary Michael Wynne is keen to free the US military from dependence on fuels largely sourced from suspect overseas regimes: a desire in which he is not alone.

At present, though, the Fischer-Tropsch synthetics being used are derived from fossil sources - coal or natural gas - which are easily obtained in the US. They aren't biofuels, but at least you don't have to buy them from Saudi Arabia.

However, the Pentagon is also seeking technology which could produce jet fuel from "crops produced by either agriculture or aquaculture (including but not limited to plants, algae, fungi, and bacteria) ..."

This seems to chime with Glover's Boeing vision of many different, probably non-food biofuel sources, all producing interchangeable fuel to a common standard. According to Flight, the aerospace behemoth plans biofuel-powered test flights next year, using 747 jumbo jets lent by Virgin and Air New Zealand (with General Electric and Rolls-Royce engines respectively).

Initiatives such as this probably won't cut carbon emissions immediately. Fischer-Tropsch juice is just liquefied fossil fuel, and biofuel production methods of today involve emissions and energy use which rob them of carbon-neutral status. However, these plans could well see less of the developed world's money flowing into Saudi coffers.

In time, fuel made from non-food sources like algae using new processes might very well cut into carbon emissions significantly, too. And this would avoid driving up food prices or requiring unfeasibly large amounts of cropland.

That said, one reason more normal alternate fuels such as corn ethanol have gained some traction is the huge political clout wielded by the US farm lobby rather than any more high-minded factors. Still, corporations like Boeing, Virgin and Shell - not to mention government arms like the US airforce - also have a lot of muscle. They could push this type of plan just as hard if they really wanted to.

First, however, the technology needs to be proved feasible. Once that's done, the commitment of the various groups will - or won't - become clear.

The Flight reports on the C-17 flight and the Boeing plans are here and here, respectively. A Boeing document on alternative commercial aircraft fuels can be read here (pdf). ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.