Swift Fuel: A Tilt Toward Natural Gas

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Although it was introduced three years ago as primarily a renewable biofuel based on cellulosic technology, Swift's 100SF avgas replacement will also be competitive if made from more conventional petroleum sources, according to the company's David Perme. In a podcast interview, Perme said that Swift's best numbers at the moment suggest a retail price between $5 and $6 per gallon and if the fuel is made from petroleum sources -- most likely natural gas -- little or no capital will be required. He believes at least some refiners will be able to reconfigure minimally to make the fuel using accepted refining processes.

Swift is a so-called binary fuel made from acetone that is then converted into a blend of isopentane and mesitylene to make the final fuel. Although Swift's initial patents suggested the acetone would be derived from biomass, Perme says the process can actually use acetone feedstock from either bio or petroleum sources. Most acetone is made from the propylene (also known as propene) that's found in natural gas, but it can also be refined from liquid petroleum or even coal. Acetone is a common solvent used as a precursor of methyl methacrylate, a resin used in paints and plastics. When we asked if Swift now believes the fuel will be more competitive if refined from petroleum sources, Perme declined to say as much, replying instead that having two feedstock streams gives 100SF flexibility that other fuels can't match. Just this week, Swift began formal application for approval under ASTM, which the FAA says is necessary before any fuel can be approved for widespread use.

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