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USAF to provide facilities for private synthetic fuel development

Commercial synthetic fuel production and research into reducing the carbon dioxide output of the synthesis process could take place at the US Air Force's Malmstrom AFB in Montana under the USAF's Enhanced Use Lease programme.

The Fischer-Tropsch process used to make the synthetic fuel produces large amounts of CO2 and under section 526 of the US Energy Dependence and Security Act of 2007 the government cannot purchase fuel with a greater lifecycle carbon footprint than petroleum.

The Fischer-Tropsch process can use coal or biomass to create liquid fuel and the USAF's Enhanced Use Lease programme is to allow private companies to use underused USAF assets.

Work at Malmstrom AFB could include carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies to solve synthetic fuel's CO2 problem. Carbon capture could involve injecting the waste CO2 into the ground for storage.

"If the air force is contributing to that research and can liquefy coal and capture the greenhouse gasses and store those safely underground that would be a big boon for [coal-to-liquid] technology," says the US Senate's committee on energy and natural resources.

A forum on CCS technology was held on 1 April in Washington DC. It was led by the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies' energy and national security programme, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Energy, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the European Union's US mission.

Meanwhile, the USAF continues its drive to certificate its entire fleet to use synthetic fuel by 2011. A Boeing B-1 bomber flew with synthetic fuel on 19 March.

The USAF says: "We don't really have any testing on the horizon until late April or May, at which time we will be testing the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine at Arnold Engineering Center. Next up for aircraft could be a Boeing F-15 or Lockheed Martin F-22."

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