A small company in Indiana is claiming they have developed a new type of fuel for piston engine aircraft that will be cheaper, less polluting, and produce more energy per gallon than existing 100LL aviation fuel. Swift Enterprises, of West Lafayette, Indiana, is saying that instead of using refined crude oil to produce aviation gas, they can synthetically produce fuel using renewable biomass. (They don’t say what type of renewable biomass is required, but if it is not corn, that would be another advantage. Corn-based ethanol production has been under scrutiny lately because of concerns that it really takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy that gallon of ethanol generates. Plus there is also the ethical argument that you are trading food for fuel, when certain parts of the world are facing critical food shortages.) If the performance claims for Swift Fuel turn out to be true, it would eliminate the concerns that I have previously written about for developing biofuel for aircraft. (Swift is also claiming that components of their fuel can be formulated into a replacement for jet fuel.) Swift also said their technology could produce all the fuel needed
by general aviation in the U.S. using only 5 percent of this country’s
existing bio-fuel plant infrastructure, so major new plants would not be required.
The claims for the Swift fuel are pretty amazing, but I have to think the work this company is doing may be more valid than some of the other wild claims (You too can run your car on water!) of hydrocarbon-based fuel replacements that surface whenever crude oil prices rise. The company principles appear to have solid engineering and scientific backgrounds, and it looks like they have already started using the fuel in aircraft piston engine ground tests. Still, I would definitely want to see more real-world test data before I buy in to this as a substitute for 100LL aviation fuel. (It looks like the company will start working with the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) to evaluate the safety and viability of this
fuel.) Also, if Swift Enterprises can successfully produce a cheaper, cleaner replacement for jet fuel using this technology, it would be a game-changer for the
struggling airline industry, as fuel currently accounts for the greatest share of
their operating costs. It will be interesting to follow the efforts of this company to see if the Swift fuel really can deliver on its promises. And with 100LL selling for over $5 a gallon, a cheaper, cleaner aviation fuel can’t come soon enough.