The US Air Force's near-term goal to use synthetic fuel throughout its entire fleet by 2016 could be jeopardised by the speed with which Fischer-Tropsch alternatives are given the green light.

The USAF is rumoured to be growing increasingly frustrated at the progress of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to certificate a 50% blend of synthetic jet fuel and conventional JP-8 for civil aircraft.

Richard Altman of the CAAFI consortium, which is doing much of the work to prepare such fuel processes for ASTM consideration points out that the body has an exceptionally ambitious remit.

The ASTM has up to six ballots in hand ranging from accepting the research report to a passage of a new specification for F-T fuels to replace the current D-1655 specification for petroleum-based fuels, a process that will allow for the broadest number of options in the mid to long term.

"Clearly, ASTM is executing a step change in activity level from what that committee has taken on historically and is to be commended for that," says Altman. "That said, the USAF, and the airlines, are anxious to have access to new fuels in the near term. Recent reductions in fuel prices have not changed the interest level and it appears that the incoming US administration shares that view."

He says that as a majority of USAF fuel use occurs on transport engines, the costs greatly increase if commercial certification is not secured in advance of its schedule for alternative fuel qualification.

CAAFI's certification team headed by Mark Rumizen from the US Federal Aviation Administration is working with key ASTM members to ensure rapid adjudication of the forthcoming suite of technical issues to be discussed the week of December 8.

"None of the technical issues that have been introduced threatens the certification outcome," says Altman.

Source: Flight International