New Aviation Fuel to Replace 100LL


There’s probably no topic more important to those of us who fly General Aviation aircraft than the continued availability of aviation fuel. For those of you who may not be familiar with aviation, the fuel used in aircraft is made the old fashioned way because it uses tetraethyl lead to increase the octane rating. High octane fuel is necessary because about 30% of the aviation fleet use high compression engines, and those aircraft use 70% of the aviation fuel. The engine I’ll be putting in my Cozy MKIV will require this fuel. Leaded fuel has been outlawed by the EPA for all other uses, but aviation fuel got an exemption for a period of 30 years. That period ends in 2010, which is coming up soon.

I agonized over the decision over whether to use a high or low compression engine in the Cozy but I figured that with all the aircraft fleet that need 100LL, there would be some fuel developed that would come to the rescue, possibly an ethanol based biofuel. Of course, with an experimental aircraft, I could always put lower compression pistons in the engine and use autogas, if I had to, but that’s not ideal. So I was very excited to hear about this new fuel that is being developed that has so many advantages that it’s hard to believe it’s true.

I emailed the owner of the company and he responded. That’s always a good sign. Not only that, he graciously referred me to his associates on the project if I had any more questions about it. I’m really hoping that these guys are successful. Here’s the report I got from Avweb:

New GA Fuel Promises Better Range, Lower Cost

“Not only can our fuel seamlessly replace the aviation industry’s standard petroleum fuel [100LL], it can outperform it,” says John Rusek, a professor at Purdue University and co-founder of Swift Enterprises. The company recently unveiled a new general aviation fuel that it says will be less expensive, more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendlier than any on the market. Unlike other alternative fuels, Rusek said, SwiftFuel is made of synthetic hydrocarbons that are derived from biomass, and it can provide an effective range greater than 100LL, while costing about half as much to produce. “Our fuel should not be confused with first-generation biofuels like E-85 [85 percent ethanol], which don’t compete well right now with petroleum,” Rusek said. Patented technology can produce the 1.8 million gallons per day of fuel used by GA in the U.S. by using just 5 percent of the existing biofuel plant infrastructure, the company said.

The synthetic fuel is 15 to 20 percent more fuel-efficient, has no sulfur emissions, requires no stabilizers, has a 30-degree lower freezing point than 100LL, introduces no new carbon emissions, and is lead-free, Rusek said. In addition, he said, the components of the fuel can be formulated into a replacement for jet/turbine fuels. The company now is working with the FAA to evaluate the fuel.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered aircraft


For the first time in history, Boeing demonstrated a manned, hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft. I had written about a Sonex electric aircraft I saw at Oshkosh last year, albeit as a static display model that used 250 lbs of batteries. It would only operate for about 18 minutes at full power, or just a small fraction of the time you’d expect from a gasoline powered aircraft.

In this case, the flight was at a speed of 55 kts, at an altitude of 3300 feet for 20 minutes in a converted motor glider, so the range/capacity is likely to be on par with the Sonex. Boeing does not anticipate that hydrogen fuel cells will be able to provide primary power for a commercial aircraft.

I think that the outcome of these recent demonstrations show that the future of air travel will continue to depend on liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Short of a miraculous discovery, when fossil fuels are exhausted hydrocarbon fuels will need to come from biomass feedstocks. After a rash of articles inspired by a recent Science article critical of biofuels, even Time Magazine has jumped on the dogpile, parroting the statements that biofuels are a scam and an environmentally damaging approach to generating energy.

In the future, the sun and wind will likely provide enough energy to heat our homes and provide us with electricity. Those energy sources may even power a commuters vehicle a few dozen miles a day. But to move something like a ship, a truck, a train, or a plane, it appears we’ll be dependent on liquid hydrocarbon fuels for some time. This might not be the case if the energy density of battery technology would approach that of hydrocarbon fuels per kg., but thus far it’s still several orders of magnitude away. Even with the thermal to mechanical energy inefficiency of the internal combustion engine which averages around 30%, energy density is still the primary advantage of conventional fuels over batteries.

Perhaps the best chance to please everyone would be to use wind and solar power to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, combine it with hydrogen, and synthesize clean burning hydrocarbon fuels. I suspect that no sooner than a method became practical, there’d be another dogpile forming, no doubt protecting existing interests by decrying the evils of robbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Renewable energy certainly has a lot of controversy and drama associated with it. You wouldn’t expect that from a field that should be primarily technical and scientific, but when anything has the potential to affect economics, politics, and the environment, technical arguments seem to hold little sway.

Colorado Wind Energy


I was out last week flying in the LongEZ and I decided to check the progress of the large wind farms that are under construction in Northern Colorado. One of these wind farms called Cedar Creek is right at the Wyoming-Nebraska-Colorado border and the other is farther east in Colorado, just south of Sidney, Nebraska. It is called the Peetz Table Wind farm. Between them, they have 500 wind turbines with a peak generating capacity of 700MW.

One of the things that impresses me most about wind farms is how fast they get built. These two facilities were just in the discussion stages 2 years ago. Early this spring they were just setting up the towers and now all towers are nearly complete and generating power. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, nuclear power projects like the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station took a very long time to build, with an average build time of 12 years. By contrast these wind projects are going up in a year or less, and the amount of land available on which to build them is substantial so I would expect to see many more going up over the next few decades. Out west we also don’t have nearly the number of people objecting to them with NIBMY excuses. I suppose when your closest neighbors include 220 Minuteman silos, you have a different perspective on what constitutes a “good neighbor.” Some people can be very picky about what they allow in their backyards, as evidenced by Cape Wind.

My previous blog posting on Colorado wind power included an aerial shot of Colorado’s Ponnequin wind farm near Cheyenne, and I now have some new photos of the new wind farms I mentioned, each which has more than 200 wind turbines.

There are also some photos of the new Vestas Blades factory which is under construction in Windsor. It will produce about 1200 40-meter wind turbine blades per year when it is completed next spring. They are even talking about expanding it to increase the rate of production by 50% within a year of commencing operation.

Cozy spar and wings status


Here’s a short posting to show some of the progress on the Cozy. The Cozy was derived from the LongEZ and uses identical construction techniques. The main difference is that it is a 4-place airplane whereas the LongEZ is a 2-place.

This is the jig in which the main spar is built. The main spar is a box beam that is very strong. The wings attach to the spar and it is a major structural component of the airframe.

The part that makes up the shape of the spar is just foam, but it’s covered with many layers of fiberglass and epoxy which give it tremendous strength.

The wings are made of foam, fiberglass and epoxy. The shape of the wing is cut using airfoil templates with a ‘hot wire’ saw to give it an airfoil shape. This is probably the most fun part of building a composite airplane. In just a few minutes you go from a block of foam to something that looks like it belongs on an airplane.

The wing needs to be assembled in a jig to maintain proper dimensions. The jig also helps to set the sweep and twist of the airfoil.

The spar and wings attached to the rest of the fuselage.