US Air Force chief Michael Wynne expects the bid to replace 50% of its domestic fuel needs with synthetic alternatives by 2016 will be supported by lengthy contracts for alternative fuel producers.
Speaking at this year's Aviation & Environment Summit, the secretary of USAF explained how it is now actively looking to host coal-to-liquid fuel plants on its own air bases as it works to diversify available energy sources.
The offer of air force-owned land to commercial producers of alternative energy is part of its ongoing plan to reduce the USAF's dependence on foreign oil. This includes certificating a 50% blend of synthetic coal-to-liquid jet fuel and conventional JP-8 across its fleet of aircraft by early 2011. The Boeing C-17 transport will be the latest USAF type to be approved to use synthetic fuel, with certification due this summer.
Wynne says that the USAF is now seeking legislation that will allow the offer of long-term purchase contracts which, he says, "would allow the bankers of the world to support that".
In terms of establishing a robust production system, Wynne insists that even though it is offering the land for production facilities, the USAF had no intention of going into the energy business: "We are going to be the customer." He adds that the synthetic fuel needs to be of a consistently high quality.
Wynne says that aviation needs to be ambitious in its vision and that military-led mega projects have often led to innovation in the civil and commercial arenas. "We need to push our boundaries in every direction," he says.
Wynne says that the use of engine manufacturers' test facilities had helped speed up procedures and that the 2016 target is "not unachievable". He adds: "We are now at the point where we can do super and subsonic flights using synthetics. The chemistry is known, now it is a question of engineering the economics," he says.