RAF makes world's first flight using pure synthetic fuel
The Royal Air Force has set a new record by completing the first ever aircraft flight powered entirely by synthetic fuel. On November 2 in the skies over Cotswold Airport in the UK, Group Captain Peter Hackett piloted an Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft fueled by a synthetic UL91 fuel made by British energy company Zero Petroleum from water and carbon dioxide.
Synthetic fuels from basic carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen are not new, nor is their use in aircraft, but the normal practice is to produce a blend of synthetic and fossil fuels with under 50 percent synthetics. This means that if one is using synthetics to reduce the use of fossil fuels, making military bases more independent from supply lines, or reducing carbon emissions, the results fall far short of the goal.
For this reason, the RAF and Zero Petroleum are seeking a way to produce purely synthetic fuels that can be burned by high-performance aircraft under normal operational conditions. In other words, fuels that can be produced at forward bases or aboard aircraft carriers in a closed cycle that is independent of shipped-in raw materials, while reducing carbon emissions by up to 90 percent.
For the test, the Ikarus was fielded with Zero Petroleum's ZERO SynAvGas, which is a synthetic UL91 fuel produced from water and carbon dioxide, which are broken down and then subjected to the Fischer-Tropsch process. This process is a series of reactions that turn the hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon into methane and then into increasingly complex organic molecules like polyethylene, ethanol, ethylene, methane, polypropylene, and in turn jet fuel.
Zero Petroleum likens this to photosynthesis and says its process is run on renewable energy like solar, wind, or hydroelectric. Before the demo flight, the new fuel was tested by the CFS Aero aircraft overhaul and repair facility, which found that the Ikarus' engine ran cooler, suggesting the synthetic fuel could extend engine life.
In line with the government's Net Zero goals, the RAF plans to have its first carbon neutral base by 2025 and the entire service will be carbon neutral by 2040.
"This unique project with the Royal Air Force demonstrates the validity of our synthetic fuel and the potential it has to eliminate fossil CO2 emissions from a number of difficult but critical sectors, including transport which currently accounts for 23 percent of the global total," says Zero Petroleum's CEO, Paddy Lowe. "We are particularly proud of the fact that our high-grade aviation gasoline ZERO SynAvGas was developed in just five months and ran successfully in the aircraft as a whole-blend without any modification whatsoever to the aircraft or the engine. The engine manufacturer Rotax’s measurements and the test pilot’s observations showed no difference in power or general performance compared to standard fossil fuel."
Source: Ministry of Defence