Oil Slicks and Avgas

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I've been watching the expanding oil spill mess in the Gulf of Mexico with increasing dread. I happen to live on the Gulf and that slick could find its way to our beaches here on the west coast of Florida. Alarmingly, there's no indication that BP or the army of experts they have summoned have yet figured out how to cap the well.

But my dread has less to do with fouled beaches and more to do with how things like this become politicized beyond all reason and thus distort any ability to construct an intelligent energy policy. I can't find the attribution, but I think it was James Schlesinger who commented that we don't have an energy policy in this country—we swing wildly from apathy to crisis. We're about to enter Choice B again. And you want wild? One Web site is reporting that the U.S. government is suppressing news coverage that North Korea torpedoed the rig. Sigh.

For the record, I am a proponent of expanded offshore drilling, although I despise the mindless "drill, baby, drill" chant, whoever invented it. I think I have realistic grasp of the environmental risks involved; I doubt the drill-baby crowd does, since I have yet to hear any drilling proponents argue coherently on how such risks should be mitigated. These people tend to talk in bullet points that are certified content free.

Unfortunately, aviation has a bigger dog in this fight than other industries because our fortunes are so directly tied to the price and availability of fuel. When fuel prices go up, we don't respond with more efficient engines, as the auto industry does, we just fly less. Or sell the airplane and take up surfing.

Events like the Gulf spill have a way of resetting the gross direction of things and that could happen with our mostly non-existent energy policy. One potentially positive development is a stronger tilt toward homegrown synthetic and bio-fuels. Frankly, I'm not a big believer in this because the economics look phony with oil at $75. But oil isn't going to stay there forever and at some point, the curves will merge and a bio-fuel like Swift Fuel suddenly becomes economically attractive.

Either way, it's not going to be cheap. At Sun 'n Fun, Swift's Charles Churchman gave a rundown of initial economics for this new fuel. Allowing for estimated yields and throughputs—still unknown—and the special difficulty of distribution, he estimated initial costs at $10 per gallon, until volumes are built. That might take as long as a decade. I'm not put off by those numbers because I think they finally bring some reality to the discussion and as Swift matures—if it does—it may find significant economies.

Again, these are 2010 estimates that can't account for future market prices for oil nor, more important, what kind of political windshift an major offshore disaster might cause. We don't yet know if we have one of those.

Meanwhile, down in Oklahoma, GAMI continues work on the petroleum-based G100UL. Although this fuel looks promising as a drop-in replacement for 100LL and could probably be refined within 90 days, the industry—chiefly the alphabets—have shown little interest in it. With a potential solution staring them in the face, none have embarked on a meaningful technical evaluation of their own, even though such a thing could be done by a first-year engineering student in a couple of weeks.

The FAA appears to be actively pushing back against G100UL given that it still hasn't agreed to consider an STC to test the fuel in a wider fleet trial, preferring instead the plodding, committee-driven ASTM process. Neither has it taken a technical interest, having yet to send a technical representative to smell test GAMI's claims.

On the other hand, Swift has entered into a fleet trial with Embry-Riddle, which is a positive development. Still, we know the fuel works—very few doubts there. What's really needed is to fast-track the economics so whichever of these fuels is practical can be tankered to an airport near you.

But it will be awhile. For I suspect what you're seeing is what we've been seeing for the past 25 years: The industry isn't serious about solving this problem, but is more concerned with turf protection and procedural chicken#$^2.

I'm left wondering if a runaway well out in the Gulf is going to have any impact on this. While I'm chewing on that, I'll have some more on G100UL later on.

Comments (62)

I wonder if this oil slick isn't the Three Mile Island for oil exploration. After 3MI, abject fear and political expediency took over and set our nuclear power industry back for decades. Instead we ended up building coal-fired plants which pollute as part of their normal operation. This Gulf incident is arguably more environmentally damaging than 3MI was. Just as I thought Obama was going to give rationality a try with his proposed expansion of offshore drilling, this happens. Good luck making that one fly.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | May 2, 2010 2:22 PM    Report this comment

Oil spill have always been an ecological disaster. Something that I have always advocated about during debates of Global Warming in that it’s not the cars and planes that are the problem but the wholesale destruction of forests and the massive oil spills in our precious oceans that kill the plankton our life blood of oxygen that keeps us alive. The secondary effect is the availability of fresh drinking water as the oil stops the evaporation of the water in the sea to become rain or when it does will carry some of the contaminates of the oil. With this in mind what is going to be the knee jerk reaction. I doubt anyone will give thought to the health and safety concerns of Earth. YES we need to cap that oil tap urgently and stop the further flow of oil into our ocean. Then we need to develop effective measures to clean up the mess and finally we need to prepare solutions to ensure oil spillage, whether accidentally or as part of normal operations, is eliminated. It’s not difficult it just cost, money no one is prepared to spend because there is no perceived RETURN OF INVESTMENT. This is where I wish the climate change or global warming fanatics would focus their attention and lobby to have changes made in this field and leave us poor souls to fly without feeling guilty.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 3, 2010 5:59 AM    Report this comment

I listened to an interesting discussion on the radio about major oil companies and insurance. Apparently not many carry insurance for spills because they are such rare events.

The typical thinking of the commenters was the bottom line of a company such as BP will in no way be threatened by a spill, but this show aired a day or two after the rig sank and the spill became news.

Now that it's been spewing oil for a week (estimates range from 5,000 to 20,000 barrels daily) with no end in sight, I wonder if views on insurance will change?

Anyone care to bet on a new law/regulation?

How this affects the political climate and decisions about oil supplies in the long term is an interesting question, but many are concerned about the short term.

Ultimately, whether this disaster affects oil prices over the summer will come down to supply and demand. The only way I can see that the spill might have an effect is the threat it poses to port access along the gulf coast. As I understand it, a lot of imported oil enters the US via the ports in the Gulf of Mexico. A disruption of shipping there might limit supply as the hurricanes did a few years back.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | May 3, 2010 7:31 AM    Report this comment

The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which is ongoing as of this writing, is not just BP's problem. Its not just the oil industry's problem. Its EVERYBODY'S problem.

What worries me is that people who don't like the automobile industry anyway, like Congressman Henry Waxman of California, will use this disaster as raison d'etre to continue their demands for ever more draconian fuel economy requirements for cars. I don't think this disaster is good for aviation either, for that matter.

Chris McLellan mentioned 3 Mile Island. That accident frightened a lot of people, but didn't inflict a thousanth of the environmental damage that the ongoing Gulf oil disaster has inflicted thus far.

We all have a vested interest in a complete review and overhaul of policies and procedures related to offshore oil extraction. Its very much like nuclear power, in a way. With nuclear power its important that a meltdown not happen. But its most important of all that even if a complete meltdown does happen, massive radioactive contamination of the environment be prevented. A similar policy should hold true for oil.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 3, 2010 8:06 AM    Report this comment

A little perspective:

"If the well continues to flow unabated at 5,000 bpd for two months until BP can cap it, the Deepwater Horizon spill could surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 270,000 barrels as the biggest in U.S. history. But to keep things in perspective, this spill would have to continue gushing at this rate for 200 days to break into the top 10 worst spills ever, and for more than a year to enter the top five."

http://www.financialpost.com/most-popular/story.html?id=2971866#ixzz0msYHPAzs

Dramatic, newsworthy stuff, kind of like plane crashes. It temporarily overshadows the massive quantities retrieved and used without a spill or the like, or the thousands of hours flown without an accident. 5,000 barrels a day is a huge number, when just trying to do 25 gallons of 87UL a week can be a significant expense. This thing is a drop in a bucket however, compared to the size of the oceans.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | May 3, 2010 10:30 AM    Report this comment

"Drop in the bucket" depends on whose bucket you are referring to. The Gulf fishery is already substantially impacted and that may get worse before it gets better. I'm sure the tourist industry in western Florida is equally worried.

While a price must be paid for oil production in unavoidable environmental damage, one hopes we could do better than this. Also, because the leak is sub-surface, judging the volume is difficult. I won't be surprised to see reports that it's much less than originally thought or, in fact, much worse.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 3, 2010 11:15 AM    Report this comment

Your thoughts on GAMI and SWIFT overlook two important points. First, neither one is planning to produce anything -- both plan to certify a product and then license production to others. Second, FAA is not driving the discussion, EPA is. ASTM is in the process because neither EPA nor FAA trust each and neither one can act alone to break the logjam.

SWIFT has played by the rules, GAMI wants to circumvent them. SWIFT has a patent and an ASTM specification. GAMI has neither.

I agree with you that economics will determine the winner, but how can you determine the economics when you don't even know who will be producing what? With SWIFT we have some idea of the what, but no idea of the who; with GAMI the who is pretty clear, but no idea what the product is, other than it comes from a barrel of oil. If GAMI were to say that it's product will meet SWIFT's ASTM spec, now then we might have horse race.

Posted by: James Grant | May 3, 2010 12:18 PM    Report this comment

GAMI wants to circumvent them<<''

This is not correct. The FAA has an Advisory Circular that clearly allows a fuel to be tested via a supplemental type certificate. What GAMI has asked the FAA to do is to approve the STC while it pursues the rather longer ASTM process. GAMI is proposing an alternate means clearly allowed by the FAA's own documentation.

Whether EPA and FAA trust each other is immaterial to the wisdom of allowing an STC for testing purposes. It's a mere smokescreen hiding the fact that FAA is focusing on process, not solution. What the FAA most needs is to operate by its own policies, not spend taxpayer dollars resisting industry innovation.

Ultimately, the approval will be under ASTM D910, as it probably should be. There is no rational reason to reject the STC for a wider fleet test. All it does is slow the solution and, again, show the industry's lack of seriousness.

I can easily see how the EPA deadline will arrive and the industry will have pissed away all this time and still have no ready fuel. If so, it will be because of blind adherence to process.

Any before *anyone* can produce anything, D910 will have to be met or excepted and the numbers will need to be right. A controlled fleet test can only help.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 3, 2010 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Yes, I heard about the coast being closed to fishing for the next 10 days or some such timeframe, with comments from one fisherman who says until he sees oil, he's going out regardless. Can't afford not to.

Less of a spill/loss than estimated would be great, especially if it means the crisis goes "to waste".

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | May 3, 2010 1:50 PM    Report this comment

Paul - not to be the conspiracy theorist, but Swift does have something going for it that GAMI does not - it's a "green" bio-fuel instead of petroleum. That may be, in reality, GAMI's biggest hurdle. Switching all of GA to biofuel would put us at a real advantage in the court of public opinion, if nothing else. I just hope the stuff works and it doesn't cost a small fortune at the pump.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 3, 2010 6:54 PM    Report this comment

Not to belittle this unfolding tragedy in the Gulf, but what happened to all the oil spilled in the North Atlantic during World War II when U-boats were sinking tankers left and right?

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | May 3, 2010 10:33 PM    Report this comment

The "green" aspect of Swift is a big plus. Personally, I like the idea of biofuels just from an efficiency point of view. But as much as I like the idea, even a dull pencil applied to the cost equation reveals a problematic result. Would you, as a pilot, pay $7 a gallon to be green, or $5 for a dirty old oil solution? Which way do you think the market would go?

If oil gets to +$100, the equation looks better. It will eventually get that high, sustained.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2010 6:29 AM    Report this comment

>>$7 a gallon to be green, or $5 for a dirty old oil solution? Which way do you think the market would go?>>

Are you saying that G100UL is the new "dirty old oil solution" and will be only $5/gal(at the pump)? If not, how much do your sources say GAMI'S G100UL will cost at the pump with $75 and $100/barrel oil?

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 4, 2010 10:46 AM    Report this comment

I'm saying I have been told by sources who aren't GAMI that the initial economics look like G100UL is within .50 cents to a buck of avgas. It's easy to see why. The throughput is scalable to current refineries and the infrastructure for transportation is in place. If that's true, it could be out there within months, except for the ASTM grind.

Before I'd take that to the bank, I'd want to see a fuller review and at least a large-scale pilot plant project. Ditto for Swift. Show me a 10,000 or 100,000 gallon--or whatever works--pilot run to see how the scale and yields really work out. Are there gotchas that could add costs? Maybe.

One other fuel with favorable economics is the 94UL that Continental is pushing. Great for low-power engines, but I question whether it will provide detonation margins for high-power engines, which Swift and G100UL have been proven to do.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2010 12:52 PM    Report this comment

It sounds as though the detonation margins are not a problem with 94UL using a system like Gami's Prism system or TCM Fadec. I think this might be a pay now, or pay more later issue. Even for twins where you have to buy two of the electronic systems, it would be very interesting to see where the price point is for, say, a 30k per engine conversion vs the increased cost of a boutique fuel like Swift or G100UL. At 40 gallons an hour in a Cessna 421, it adds up pretty fast. No matter which fuel wins, the further we get from standard automotive gasoline the higher the price per gallon will be.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 4, 2010 3:25 PM    Report this comment

Maybe the 94UL is a player. Dunno. Doing some more reporting on it later this month. It's a tricky thing because if 94UL were adopted on the assumption that owners who need the higher octane will go to a FADEC system, many are not going to do it. I know that for a fact. They will simply bail out of the airplaes for something else or nothing at all.

So that means you will defacto decrease the size of the fleet, perhaps substantially. Those airplanes become scrap. As the market rebuilds, it would presumably do so with electronic engines capable of burning lesser octane.

That an iffy market plan, in my view.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2010 3:36 PM    Report this comment

One of these days we are going to allow the government to stop all oil drilling, buying and refining. We will then learn that "Evil Oil" is the basis for most of our prosperity over the last 100 years. NO medicines, cosmetics (that will cause a stir), no-iron shirts, no plastic bottles for the water bunch, no soda bottles for the fatties... and the list is endless.

Someone once said "Government isn't the solution, Government is the problem" this is a prime example.

Quit paying attention to the "Crisis Mongers"... they're just stealing your money to pay themselves.

Posted by: David Spencer | May 4, 2010 4:26 PM    Report this comment

> Someone once said "Government isn't the solution, Government is the problem" this is a prime example.

That someone was Ronald Reagan.

I'm a long way from building my own plane. My preferred engine is a diesel. Nominally, it uses diesel or Jet-A, which are petroleum based, but I could build a reactor to create bio diesel from used cooking oil.

Regardless, I hope things are settled soon, and the solution is not to kill GA!

Posted by: Richard Pottorff | May 4, 2010 4:53 PM    Report this comment

I think the FADEC is a player based upon the Twin Cessna spar cap AD. Have they scrapped some 402's, yes, but they are rebuilding a heck of a lot of them too. I'm sure if FADEC is the thing, the value of old turbo twins and singles that aren't modified will drop, but that market can't go a whole lot lower anyways.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 4, 2010 7:08 PM    Report this comment

The truly sad part is that any unleaded fuel may very well ground a large number of piston-powered warbirds. Even 100LL is not truly a high-enough octane fuel for many to operate at rated power. Upgraded valves are kind of hard to find for radial engines, and it's a small market for electronic controls and the like.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 4, 2010 7:16 PM    Report this comment

Remember Hurricane Katrina, anyone? Here's a little story about the multiple oil spills when that happened... http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9365607/ I heard this morning on the radio Mississippi has been awarded an emergency federal grant of $25 million (I think) for damage caused by the oil spill, when it hasn't even reached its coast yet. This spill is big business for some, and obviously detrimental to others... and while all this is going on, I noticed only a $0.02 rise in gas prices overnight, presumably 100LL is seeing similar fluctuations. Apart from normalization of the price spikes, we have to accept that all oil derived fuels are never going to get cheaper, including any form of 100UL, so 100LL will endure until oil over-prices ethanol.

Posted by: Peter Sharpe | May 5, 2010 8:10 AM    Report this comment

"Ultimately, the approval will be under ASTM D910, as it probably should be. "

That is not correct. D910 is the leaded avgas specification. Unleaded avgas is being certified under a number of new specifications. 82UL is D6227, 91UL is D7547 and the spec for 94UL hasn't been published yet.

I understand that you'd like for D910 to cover both leaded and unleaded avgas -- that would make it easier for GAMI to get an STC for G100UL, but that's not how the process has been defined (internationally, not just in the US). Rants about the FAA, government, are off the mark. This is an industry process; FAA is just a participant.

Check out the article by Mark Orr in FAA Aviation News July/August 2009 for a rundown.

Posted by: James Grant | May 5, 2010 8:21 AM    Report this comment

D910 etc<<

Well, that may be true. But at the moment, FAA is insisting on a D910 fuel spec for the 100LL replacement. Far as I know, D910 does contain a lead spec. It contains an min octane require, distallation points, vapor pressures and so on.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 5, 2010 8:51 AM    Report this comment

Hey, you're a journalist -- why don't you ask the FAA why they're stonewalling GAMI and why it has to take so long, if you're right that this could be wrapped up in a few months of testing? Start with Mark Orr, who wrote the article I referenced. Or Mark Rumizen -- he's another FAA engineer who did a ppt presentation "Certification of Alternative Fuel" back in February, 2009 at an industry conference on this subject. The ppt is on the web.

Posted by: James Grant | May 5, 2010 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Dear friends. 3 or 4 years ago, I sent a brasilian newspaper (to the columnist John Deakin) on the sugar cane ethanol powered crop dusters. Today,(I don't have recent numbers about this fleet)we might have more than 800 in operation with Lycommings and Continental recips engines paying $0,75 usd per litter of ethanol, with no subsidies... (we spray no lead in our crops..) Please, go to sweeteralternative.com for more about it. Maybe, its time to raise a little (sugar) cane! Herminio. (Brazil)

Posted by: herminio ometto neto | May 5, 2010 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Swift plans to use sweet sorghum as a feedstock for 100 SF because the juice can be squeezed right out of the stalk in the field -- just like sugar cane. Brazil should be an ideal place for a 100SF processing plant.

Posted by: James Grant | May 5, 2010 10:30 AM    Report this comment

Why don't I ask? Have done that, Jim. EPD filtered through FAA PR. Bottom line answer, the moment, is that FAA says it has no legal authority to regulate or oversee fuel and that it's an ASTM show. So last time I checked six weeks ago, they said an STC is possible, but only with the ASTM approval, after which the STC is somewhat pointless. What's needed as a conditional fuel spec for the STC.

As an independent observer, I might suggest that the FAA find a way to make a limited STC work rather than spend thousands on finding ways that it won't. It's process versus solution. If G100UL is a fantasy operationally, we could find that out pretty quickly.

Swift, in my view, is more or less proven operationally. The ERAU program is a good idea, but I doubt if it will yield any surprises. G100 may actually have more flight hours by now.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 5, 2010 10:48 AM    Report this comment

Mr Grant. Your attitude that federal employees may in fact be following a rational and reasonable path to a desired end state resonates with me. Please contact me on E-mail at bobpizzola@yahoo.com

Posted by: Robert Pizzola | May 5, 2010 11:02 AM    Report this comment

Why not a two track solution? Start the ASTM process while you whip up support for the "conditional" STC...including some other industry partners. It may have been presumptuous of me to say that GAMI is trying to "circumvent" the process -- but appearances matter in a highly political environment like this one is...

Posted by: James Grant | May 5, 2010 11:04 AM    Report this comment

While the Gulf spill will produce, or already is producing, nearly all of the repercussions Paul describes, one effect the spill is unlikely to have is an increase in the price or availability of oil. Oil is a fungible commodity sold on international exchanges in a world market, including oil produced here in the U.S. Total U.S. oil production from all of our offshore wells is about 2 million barrels per day. Total world production is around 85 million barrels per day. For better or worse, neither completely halting offshore oil production nor greatly expanding it is capable of having much effect on the price or availability of the oil we buy.

Posted by: Bob Davison | May 5, 2010 11:36 AM    Report this comment

"The ERAU program is a good idea, but I doubt if it will yield any surprises. G100 may actually have more flight hours by now." At Sun 'N Fun, Swift claimed their fuel was already found as components of 100LL, just as I understand is true for G100UL as well. When asked why they didn't just distill it out of one petroleum fraction or another, the Swift response was "too costly". Yet this is not true for G100UL? Swift claims to be comprised of two relatively pure chemical components. Then if it is cheaper to the point of being economic to distill G100UL, then it must be comprised of more than two components, a narrow boiling range of products, or that fuel would also be too expensive to distill from a cut of petroleum. Petroleum isn't constant in its composition, so the exact content of that narrow boiling range of components would be variable as the crude it derives from varies. Something doesn't add up with G100UL. Another comment that doesn't pass the "makes sense" test: ERAU has a fleet of aircraft flying Swift fuel, yet GAMI has announced no equivalent fleet arrangement. Who is doing all of this flying to "may" surpass the hours put on by the ERAU fleet? The unsupported innuendo is flying high.

Posted by: Robert Pizzola | May 5, 2010 11:40 AM    Report this comment

The ERAU project will expand Swift fuel's flight hours considerably. Not sure of the total hours for them now, but I know GAMI's SR22 has flown many short flight, several long trip and test cell hours galore. I don't think the full-blown ERAU project has started yet.

Your questions relate to the basic smell test on economics for both fuels, which is really what I want to see. I'm willing to stipulate both have the octane and performance numbers. I not willing to say both can be produced economically.

G100 is essentially premium unleaded gas with a petroleum-derived octane additive. That means the basic blendstock is out of the standard refinery stream. GAMI will eventually have to explain its composition or suffer the cred gap. Swift is a binary of bio-derived isopentane and mesitylene, both of which can be derived from petroleum.

So is it cheaper to derive those from biomass than from oil? So says Swift. I haven't see data from the petroleum side, but the biomass feedstock is certainly cheaper.

Lots of ifs and maybes.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 5, 2010 11:59 AM    Report this comment

The two track solution is the way to go. But as I understand the way the FAA is pitching this, it wants an ASTM spec first. I would argue for a conditional spec, allow the STC and get this off the ^%$#@*&^ desk.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 5, 2010 12:01 PM    Report this comment

>>I'm not willing to say both can be produced economically. << If neither fuel could be produced economically, then what? With lead going bye, bye, what should be done to replace 100LL? Should we throw out the baby with the bath water? No matter what the final fuel choice will be, no one will like the price and some pilots may depart aviation, but for those of us that will hang in there, then shouldn’t the replacement fuel be determined by the best current alternative no lead fuel? From the world consensus, that would be a “green” fuel. It seems that GAMI’s G100 would not foot the bill, being that it is a petroleum product with a carbon footprint and increased pollution (over Biomass based fuels), increases our dependency on foreign oil, increases our deficit and increases the possibility of more offshore drilling oil disasters. At some point the decision will be determined not just by cost, but using common sense. AND there is no guarantee G100 will be cheaper than any other contender. I believe that the ASTM along with the EPA sees a much larger picture than just our desire to fly. Like it or not, these are the rules of the game and I doubt you or I (or Swift or GAMI) will change them. Other plusses to a “home grown“biomass fuel would be how it benefits our economy and not foreign one’s like the (imported) petroleum based G100 would.

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 5, 2010 1:33 PM    Report this comment

My hunch is that EPA won't have any problem seeing things from that perspective. FAA I'm not so sure -- although FAA is involved in more than one green alternative turbine fuel (and one derived from coal).

Before we wax too rhapsodic about biofuels take a look at the state of the ethanol and biodiesel industry since Congress failed to renew the susidies. Now there's a place we do not want to go.

Posted by: James Grant | May 5, 2010 1:51 PM    Report this comment

From the world consensus, that would be a “green” fuel.<<

I must have missed that vote. I don't recall there being a world concensus that a 100LL replacement be green. If there's any world concensus, I'd guess it's for piston engines that burn Jet A.

In any case, this is why I favor getting G100UL (and 94UL) conditionally approved for wider fleet test as fast as possible so see how they fare. Swift is already getting there.

Then get them formally qualified and they can live or die on economic merits. I see no benefit in dragging this out.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 5, 2010 3:24 PM    Report this comment

There has been a great alternative to 100LL for the lower compression engines for a long time....regular unleaded auto fuel! The engines actually run better on the 93 octane auto fuel, because there is less leading, or plug fouling. Now, this seems to be going away because our goverment has mandated that ethanol be added to the fuel, so every STC holder approved to burn autogas in their airplanes is out of luck. Ethanol is not compatable with the aircraft fuel systems, and it's propensity to bond with water make it unsafe for flight. This is going to kill general aviation if there is not a reasonable solution.

Posted by: Jim Shaw | May 6, 2010 7:55 AM    Report this comment

Those who decry the use of petroleum, as one commenter noted, are playing fast and loose with the facts. At least 25% of our domestic oil production is offshore in the Gulf. Want to create about excessive fuel costs and economic disaster? Stop all offshore oil drilling. It is unfortunate that unscrupulous politicians use this disaster to increase their visibility as opposed to finding solutions. There are risks to everything (like being dependent on the Middle East to tanker their oil to the U.S.) Let us get this fixed, cleaned up and get on using petroleum to fuel the economy until the “new fuels” are available.

Significant conversion to organically based bio fuels is likely decades in the future. Also, the cost and time required to develop, certify and generate the manufacturing capability and the shipping infrastructure for the widespread use of organically based fuel will be considerable. The fact is we need dirty old petroleum to fuel the economy to help pay for the conversion to the renewables.

Also, none of the organically based fuels are likely to be produced and distributed at less cost than the current petroleum based fuels system. Their major advantage is their improved CO2 output, and that depends on how they are manufactured, used and shipped, just as burning coal to run electric cars may not be all that CO2 efficient.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | May 6, 2010 11:54 AM    Report this comment

As most in disasters the truth is several layers below the surface. For example, government regulation and "not in my backyard" syndrome have pushed oil exploration way offshore where the risks increase dramatically. Drilling a mile down has much more risk than drilling at 2000 ft. I haven't run the numbers but I would suspect that the risk to drilling depth ratio is an exponential relationship not linear.

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | May 6, 2010 12:28 PM    Report this comment

I was just sent this May,5th Chevron Press release. I believe it relates to what we are now discussing http://www.aero-news.net/Community/DiscussTopic.cfm?ContentBlockID=2c7c850b-bc0f-4bf6-8a45-9cd6f84829f8

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 6, 2010 12:41 PM    Report this comment

I heard from a highly-placed insider in the Avgas industry that Swift Fuel had been causing a bunch of gunk and deposits to clog up engines, and that it wasn't being reported in the press but looked like the problem was bad enough that it could be a potential show-stopper. I've never known this person to be one to exaggerate or be dishonest, and my source certainly is keyed into all the latest and greatest info in the field. I haven't heard anything about it from another source, though... has anyone else heard anything along these lines?

Posted by: Mike Whaley | May 6, 2010 1:59 PM    Report this comment

Does no one read anymore? This is so at odds with the FAA report as to be laughable. No wonder your source is anonymous.

Posted by: Robert Pizzola | May 6, 2010 2:07 PM    Report this comment

This is completely at odds with the FAA report. No surprise your source is anonymous.

Posted by: Robert Pizzola | May 6, 2010 2:10 PM    Report this comment

I have not heard this. Knowing what's in the stuff, however,it's hard to imagine the physics or chemistry that would make it true. And Robert, if you are referring to the Tech Center report, I wouldn't expect it to show anything like this. That was a short detonation and performance testing run.

I'm not aware that agency has done anything beyond this.Have they done something beyond this? That's why we do fleet trials...

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 7, 2010 4:41 AM    Report this comment

"G100 is essentially premium unleaded gas with a petroleum-derived octane additive."

If by "premium unleaded gas" you mean mogas then it's not hard to see why FAA has been so hard to deal with. I doubt that FAA wants to revisit the controversy that surrounded the introduction of autogas STC's back in the 80's. They want to collaborate with industry (you, no doubt, remember how warmly Lycoming responded to autogas use in their engines). Current autogas STC's are voluntary; G100UL wants to replace 100LL.

ASTM has a narrowly focused committee structure and autogas and avgas are handled by different subcommittees. FAA doesn't participate in the autogas subcommittee. So if G100UL contains autogas it's going to be interesting to see how ASTM will deal with it.

If GAMI were willing to use 94UL as the base stock instead of mogas (or if that's what they are doing) ASTM does allow for a Hybrid approach to fuel certification. D1655 was created to allow for hybrid turbine fuels based on Jet-A that contain other "blending components" such as bio-materials. These are referred to as synthetic turbine fuels. There's no analogous spec for avgas --yet--, but there's no reason that there couldn't be. 94UL with "petroleum-derived octane additive" should be a natural for this kind of hybrid spec.

Posted by: James Grant | May 7, 2010 7:44 AM    Report this comment

Yeah but...far as I know, 94UL, 100LL and others start with the same basic blend stock that G100UL is using. In other words, they're pulled out the distillation stream at very near the same points. They then get additional additives--toulene, the lead and so forth.

And as far as I know, the start blend stock is basically a variant of premium mogas. I need to check this, tho. Except for some distillation end points, G100UL appears to meet 910.

If the FAA or ASTM have substantive heartburn with any of the fuels, I will be very surprised. Unless process is placed in front of progress. Like you say, a hybrid spec can be devised if there is desire to do it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 7, 2010 8:16 AM    Report this comment

Crude oil seeps naturally out of the ocean floor similar to the way water seeps from springs. NOAA describes a natural seepage off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA, as producing 2000 to 3000 gallons of crude every day just a few miles off shore. And this is just one seepage. More details from the website I got the data from: http://oils.gpa.unep.org/facts/natural-sources.htm The site also lists data from the US Geological Survey, US Minerals Management SErvice, US National Academy of Sciences, and many more. Earlier posts are right, in that this is sensationalism of an event that is uncommon -- kind of like when an airplane crashes with minimal injuries yet gets evening news headlines.

Posted by: Dee Ann Ediger | May 7, 2010 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Question It is my understanding that Swift has done some lubricity tests on their fuel, and the results were very good. Now GAMI’s fuel, which is essentially a base petroleum stock with Ethyl benzene added as an octane enhancer, which by the way is a carcinogen that is more poisonous than lead (which is probably why GAMI will not share what the composition of the fuel is publicly) health hazards to anyone who works near piston airplanes aside, will this fuel solve the lubricity problem that 100LL does?

Posted by: Greg McMillian | May 7, 2010 1:33 PM    Report this comment

Greg, If GAMI’S G100UL does contain Ethylbenzene; it makes sense why the components in G100UL have not been reported. Even though the EPA www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/ethylben.html hasn’t classified Ethylbenzene as a full blown carcinogen (in humans), it probably can’t get much closer, subject to current data; it’s pretty bad stuff and the EPA doesn’t like it. So I would think before this fuel is even considered for testing, STC or otherwise, the components, once they are revealed, would require EPA approval. Then if ASTM testing is approved, go from there.

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 7, 2010 2:57 PM    Report this comment

>>will this fuel solve the lubricity problem that 100LL does?<<

Where are you getting this lubricity idea? 100LL has no lubricity standard. It's a common misconception that lead was placed in gasoline to lubricate the valves. But it's there an octane enhancer. Period. The valve recession issue has long since been dismissed, even by FAA's own testing.

What is the source of saying ethylbenzene is the octane additive?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 7, 2010 3:40 PM    Report this comment

"Except for some distillation end points, G100UL appears to meet 910. "

If mogas is the base stock, be sure to check vapor pressure too. That used to be the bugaboo about autogas (before ethanol). I peeked at the current autogas spec and vapor pressure looks like it's still an issue.

Posted by: James Grant | May 7, 2010 3:42 PM    Report this comment

I meant to add two other (EPA unapproved) components that could enhance a fuel like GAMI’S G100UL. They are: MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) and ETBE ethyl tert-butyl ether. Hjelmco Oil, an Avgas producer in Sweden, I believe uses MTBE in their petroleum based unleaded fuel to enhance the octane of their 91/96 UL. But components like these, as tempting as they are, are not allowed in fuels in the U.S. So I doubt GAMI would include them now, only to be rejected once they’ve listed their components, prior to approved testing.

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 7, 2010 6:53 PM    Report this comment

I *think* the "anomymous" comments were aimed at my question? Actually my source wasn't anonymous, it was someone VERY well known throughout the industry, *I* am choosing to keep the person anonymous here because A)the comments were made during a personal conversation and NOT intended for the public, B) because we didn't discuss this in a great technical depth, and C) this person represents an entity with a large financial stake in the avgas situation and it's unfair for me to put them into the position of appearing to have "sour grapes" at a possible competitor (which they may or may not actually be). I've never had reason to believe this person's the sour grapes sort, and they have gone to great lengths to support general aviation over the years with hard data and technical expertise, so I believe that there must have been *some* honest basis for the person's comments about SwiftFuel creating some sort of engine gunk. Maybe they were fed erroneous info, but I suspect this person's contacts and reliable sources in the av-fuel world far exceed anyone else's here. I have no dog in the fight, and this person's not a close personal friend or business contact or anything. I'm honestly just curious about if there are previously unreported or unforeseen factors that SwiftFuel testing may have brought to light... even if there are, it's not a bad thing necessarily, just part of the process...

Posted by: Mike Whaley | May 10, 2010 1:01 AM    Report this comment

>>Actually my source wasn't anonymous, it was someone VERY well known throughout the industry>>

Could his first name be George? :)

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 10, 2010 1:19 AM    Report this comment

Greg. The Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL is a 100 % hydrocarbon fuel fully meeting ASTM D910 grade 91/98 except for beeing without lead and dyes. As such it is a legal fuel and needs no STC or similar approval. It is a drop in fuel for 100 LL and has been produced by Hjelmco for 19 years, flown in thousands of aircraft and flown millions of hours. It is also currently used at around 100 airports mainly in Scandinavia. The price at the pumps has been approx 10 % lower than the price for 100 LL during all the 19 years. The Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL is also a 94 UL fuel meaning that we from time to time produce it with 94 aviation octane and still beeing a full ASTM D910 AVGAS grade 91/98 but with excess octane numbers. As such it has already during the years flown houndreds of thousands of hours. So the point, our unleaded AVGAS beeing sold does NOT contain either ETBE nor MTBE. Our 100UL AVGAS does however contain ETBE and has been in an approval process since 2006 but there is no known future date for approval by various organizations of that fuel. Our fuels and capabilities has been widely discussed in this fora under the following addreses: http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/AvWebInsider_SwifFuelRealities_199927-1.html#read. http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/AvWebInsider_MoralityofLead_202020-1.html#read.

cont.

Posted by: Unknown | May 10, 2010 4:03 PM    Report this comment

cont. The Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL fuel already has the written approval by piston aircraft engine manufacturers that covers more than 90 % of the entire world piston powered aircraft fleet.

At the end it will be the most cost-effective fuel that survives. In Sweden we can see that many aircraft owners get rid of their aircraft that need AVGAS 100 LL, because airports can only afford one fuel tank and the most cost-effective solution for all users at these airports is our unleaded AVGAS 91/96 UL. There are several multiengine aircraft certified to operate on 91/96 such as Beach Travelair, Piper Twin-Comance, Pipe Aztec etc and these aircraft today are very much in demand in Sweden. If the market goes for the 94 UL fuel ours is already there with production capability and fuel tanks and such as fuel would eventually cover > 95 % of all pistonpowered aircraft in the world is these former 100 LL engines had a certified PRISM or FADEC system. The extra cost of having 94 aviation octane is neglient compared to the 91 aviation octane unleaded fuel from us.

Posted by: Unknown | May 10, 2010 4:03 PM    Report this comment

>>Our (Hjelmco oil) 100UL AVGAS does however contain ETBE<<

Thank you Lars, for correcting my error when I stated that Hjelmco oil 91/96UL contains MTBE. It does not contain MTBE. I should have stated Hjelmco 100UL contains ETBE. My main point was, it seems that an unleaded petroleum based avgas, that has 100+ octane, may require an additive like ETBE. I also believe Hjelmco avgas delivers all that you claim. But from what I understand, the EPA* has concerns about the effects ETBE “COULD” have on humans "via contaminated drinking water and inhalation while fueling", even though at this time it is classified as a Group D; not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity. In spite of ETBE not being proven to cause cancer in humans, from what I understand at this time, the EPA doesn’t want it in fuels in the U.S. So, my point in my previous post, wasn’t to condemn your fuel’s proven capabilities, but that a petroleum derived 100+ octane avgas that contains an EPA unapproved additive (ETBE) probably has little chance to be approved for use in the Unites States. I believe if ETBE was approved in the Unites States, your 100UL would be a contender here. As far as Hjelmco Oil’s, other lower octane avgas’, it looks as though the main focus, at least in the U.S., is to have one avgas fuel for all aircraft with internal combustion engines. ...

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 10, 2010 9:33 PM    Report this comment

Continued... Unfortunately, in my opinion, these issues may leave your capable fuels with little or no options in the U.S., at least for now. * http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/ethylben.html http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=81311

Posted by: Greg Morton | May 10, 2010 9:34 PM    Report this comment

ETBE is rapidly taking over the use of ethanol in car gasoline in Europe. The reason is it is easy to handle, don,t mix with water and available almost anywhere in the EU, and the low cost of obtaining high quality octane numbers. These are exactly the things yoy are looking for if you want to tailor a new fuel. ASTM is an international body - so I can see that various parts of the world in the future may have different AVGAS recipees based on refinery structure, availability and price. See also http://www.hjelmco.com/upl/files/37638.pdf There is also more about ETBE in AVGAS on http://www.hjelmco.com/pages.asp?r_id=14663

Avgas today in the US usually contains 15-20 % of toluene. Toluene is much worse than ETBE healthwise.

Posted by: Unknown | May 11, 2010 2:00 AM    Report this comment

Sure does make my old Cessna 182, with an engine that will burn anything that smells like gasoline, look like a prudent selection. Most likely the fuel issue will end up by *simply* modifying the engines to use the generic fuel available.

Posted by: Tony Scribner | May 12, 2010 9:23 AM    Report this comment

I'd sure like to see ethanol replaced by ETBE here. For one, I could get mogas for my 172 again and not have to pick lead out of the plugs. Also, my pickup might get a little better mileage - I've lost 2-3 mpg using E10.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 14, 2010 9:59 AM    Report this comment

At the recent EAA Air Venture a presentation was made on ETBE as the path to an unleaded high grade AVGAS. http://www.hjelmco.com/news.asp?r_id=24401

Posted by: Unknown | August 21, 2010 10:19 AM    Report this comment

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