Why Wait For Alternative Fuel?
The main advantages of ethanol fuel, Behnken says, are, number one, it's produced domestically, and number two, it avoids the environmental and safety issues of the toxic components of 100LL. Although it's true that the U.S. can't produce enough ethanol to fuel the entire auto fleet, it could supply the GA fleet several times over. So if overall performance and cost is pretty much on a par, why wait for the end of 100LL? Why isn't the changeover already under way? "Because nobody's asking for it," says Behnken. If the demand isn't there, the fuel won't be available at your local FBO, and it's too much trouble to custom-order it. He said in the last year or two, though, with volatile gasoline prices and more concern over supplies, he's seen "significant change" in the interest level. So will ethanol soon be a viable alternative? "When people demand it to happen, that's when it will happen," Behnken said. Every engine would have to be STC'd, but that's not impossible. If gasoline prices continue to escalate, and the market remains unstable, that demand could build momentum quickly. Recently, oil prices spiked when an Alaskan pipeline shut down for repair, and U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman announced his department will invest as much as $250 million in alternative energy over the next five years, mainly for research into ethanol production. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last month called for proposals for the exploration of energy alternatives and fuel efficiency efforts for aircraft, in a bid to reduce the military's reliance on traditional fuel.