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Air Force, industry must partner to create synth-fuel demand

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Nov. 17, 2006) -- The Air Force must partner with the civilian aviation industry to create a stronger demand for alternative fuel sources.

During a conference of defense industry representatives here Nov. 14, Michael Aimone, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support, explained how the Air Force is looking for ways to get more of the fuel it uses from domestic sources.

Within the federal government, the Air Force is the single largest user of energy, and some 80 percent of that energy is aviation fuel for aircraft -- about 3 billion gallons a year.

"If we want to get to an assured domestic source of supply, using coal, oil, shale, and bio-mass, then we need to find a way to take that ... and liquefy it for aviation use," he said. "We have conducted three demonstration flights in the B-52 (Stratofortress) earlier this year and proved to ourselves that the logistics systems as well as the flight systems can handle the synth-fuel blend."

Alternative fuels like those used in the B-52 experiment can be produced from domestically available hydrocarbon products like natural gas, coal and shale. Gasification can convert any hydrocarbon feedstock (raw material required for an industrial process) into a synthesis gas that can then be converted into any number of liquid fuel products.

In addition to the roughly 3 billion gallons of jet fuel a year used by the Air Force, the civilian aviation industry consumes 12 to 13 billion gallons a year. Mr. Aimone said if the use of alternative fuels is to move forward, users of the fuels must partner together to create a demand for it.

"The best way to bring an industry together is to partner with the other industries that use aviation fuel and bring a total requirement of about 16 billion gallons a year to the marketplace, as opposed to the two or three that the Air Force might bring," he said.

Besides looking for alternative fuel sources, Air Force officials are also looking into ways to reduce the service's overall use of jet fuel through waste reduction.

"We waste a lot of energy flying around certain countries because they will not give us over-flight permission," he explained. "Over the last five months we have worked aggressively with the various aviation sectors to be able to get some streamlined diplomatic clearance processes."

The Air Force has also made changes to how much fuel can remain in a KC-135 Stratotanker when it lands. In the past, those aircraft may have had to dump fuel before landing.

"Can we raise the landing limits on the KC-135, so the airplanes can come back heavier? Sure we can," he said. "We did it this year. (It's part of) a series of conservation initiatives, some of them pretty obvious when you think about it."