Alternative Fuel Cooperation
So here's an idea, courtesy of the friendly frozen folks of the country that puts the north in North America. Canada is pitching in to help determine what less environmentally-damaging alternatives to 100LL might be out there.
The country's National Research Council was perfectly willing to all but go it alone and do a comprehensive study on the drawbacks and merits of five different kinds of potential substitutes. After all, it spent two years in obscurity helping develop and test a drop-in replacement for Jet A that not only performs as well as Jet-A but actually benefits the agricultural industry that keeps us fed.
The fuel came from the Ethiopian Mustard plant (Brassica Carinata), which will not only thrive on marginal farmland, it can be used as a fallow crop to restore nutrients taken by food crops. It grows in Saskatchewan, which is like North Dakota, only colder.
In October, NRC made history by flying the first jet flight on 100 percent biofuel made from the lowly plant from Saskatchewan. The NRC is the first to admit that it was probably the most expensive flight it's ever made in terms of fuel cost but the quest for a petroleum alternative that can be cost competitive has to start somewhere.
Advanced aviation fuel research is a pretty small world so it was inevitable that the FAA and the NRC would find out about what each other was doing. Then something pretty cool happened in the world of bureaucracies, tight government budgets and an alarming trend toward indifference about the wonders of science.
NRC and the FAA have agreed to divvy up the work in determining what potential 100LL alternative fuels work best in what engines and they'll be comparing notes. The FAA will do its evaluations on Lycomings and NRC will tackle Continentals. Both countries have a lot of self interest in finding the right fuel to keep big bore engines toiling for the various enterprises that depend on them.
But Canada and the U.S. are not the only countries that have a big stake in getting lead out of fuel without making the 540s and 550s (not to mention round engines) of the world boat anchors.
So, now that the spirit of cooperation has been established, maybe somebody should get on the phone and see how Europe, Australasia and South Africa might contribute.
It should be noted that one of the fuels NRC will test is a made-in-Canada derivative of the same plant that fueled the jet experiment. So maybe the other countries have technologies, feedstocks or processes that can be thrown into the mix.
There may come a day when big, high compression piston engines will be truly obsolete but that day is likely decades away. There are a lot of flying countries that will depend on them until then. They'll probably be more than willing to help find a practical alternative to 100LL.
Maybe someone should ask.