Aviation Biofuels: Continuing Self-Delusion

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With avgas sustaining above $5 a gallon, there's a certain mindless comfort in reading news reports that imply that biofuels, when scaled up, will be half the price. A couple of recent developments might encourage this thinking (or not), but I think it's worth planting the seed of permanent skepticism.

Pixeling into my inbox today was a press release from the Air Transport Association lauding the ASTM approval for specifications for alternative aviation fuels, specifically biofuels. Technically, this announcement is just the technical specs end of the process; the final approval happens later this summer. But no matter. The press release will be duly reported, giving the reader the vague notion that progress toward a bright new aviation biofuels world is being made.

I'd discourage thinking that, however, given the statements made by Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton speaking about the milestone of the Air Force Thunderbirds flying a show on a biomass blended fuel three weeks ago. When someone finally got around to asking what this stuff cost, Conaton revealed that it cost 10 times as much as the JP-8 the services normally use or about $30 per gallon. But don't worry, comes the quick rejoinder, economies of scale will bring this down in short order.

As Robert Rapier reports in his R Squared Energy Blog, this is a common refrain in the biofuels industry, which has a long and glorious history of promising both economies and scale that never potentiate because they have no basis in reality. The ethanol industry has been doing it for three decades, complete with government subsidies. Just three years ago, jatropha was the darling of the energy crop set until it was discovered both crop and oil yields were far below laboratory estimates. Now, we've moved on to the next magical plant, camelina, which both the Air Force and Navy are banking on for as much as half their aviation fuel needs before the end of the decade, a proposal that causes people who understand energy markets to roll their eyes.

As hapless consumers of such stories, we are hard pressed to find good, critical data on the subject of biofuels by which to reach an informed opinion. Rapier's blog is a good one, as is Vaclav Smil's Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate. The overarching point of many reports on biofuel economics is that they gloss over real-world yields, ignore the need for expensive and significant infrastructure and, most important, propose wildly optimistic timelines that ignore the established history of primary energy transitions. As Smil points out, it took decades for coal to displace wood and oil has yet to—and probably never will—displace coal. Nuclear has been overpromised from day one. Remember "too cheap to meter?"

All of this would be rather harmless if it didn't distract from the formulation of a sane national energy policy by getting entangled in the political process, thus producing monstrosities like the ethanol program. Smil argues that the quickest way to restrain the cost of oil and thus avgas and Jet A is to aggressively raise the CAFE standards. Although there's some market resistance to this, there's probably a lot less now that mogas is hovering around $4. In any case, boosting car mileage is far more technically achievable in a reasonable time frame than even driving Camelina-derived Jet A to $15 a gallon. In his new book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business, famed car guy Bob Lutz argues for fuel taxes instead.

While on the subject of ethanol, there may be good news there. Or at least not bad news. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn this week sprung a surprise amendment to end the 45-cent-a-gallon ethanol subsidy and to eliminate the 54-cent tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol. These efforts keep coming up and even in Iowa, a recent poll found weakening support for the subsidies. Sooner or later, it seems, they're going to fall. This is good news for aviation because it may mean less pressure on mogas to contain ethanol and perhaps improve the ability of E0 mogas to penetrate the airport market. But that's an issue that's hard to pin down. I wouldn't take it to the bank, by any means.

None of this is to suggest that biofuels don't have a place in the energy mix for aviation. They very well might, thus the ASTM approval is a good thing. But an informed consumer—that's you—should understand that claims for their market penetration are consistently overstated and none have come to fruition. If oil sustains at $150 a barrel, they may have a better chance, but even so, claims of massive volume ramp ups should be seen for what they are: claims. In reading about aviation biofuels, keep one eyebrow permanently arched.

Comments (112)

Barack Obama: "Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." (January 2008)

It is my belief that industrialized societies have an abundance of legacy energy sources at present consumption rates for the next 100 years.  In addition to a "conservation ethic", more efficient solar collection technologies, and nuclear plants coming on line, we'll stretch that forecast to well beyond 200 years. But for now, our gas pump prices are the victim of political timidity, and a healthy dose of "the sky is falling" mentality foisted onto the public by the "green" industry.

I believe aircraft will be (and should be) the last adopters of new power generation and fuel technologies. This is because I feel we are at the cusp of a long decline in air travel, similar to what happened with the ocean line business. Cyber-conferencing (iPad2 ?) alone will see to that.

Because aviation is still a "delicate" means of travel, every effort should be made to continue this mode of travel through proven technologies, preserve fossil fuel supply for the air transportation industry, and leave the bio-fuels for the "ground pounders".

Posted by: Phil Derosier | June 12, 2011 5:03 AM    Report this comment

"As hapless consumers of such stories, we are hard pressed to find good, critical data on the subject of biofuels by which to reach an informed opinion."

IT'S NOT HARD AT ALL to find real technical data. What's impossible for reasonable people to comprehend is why "stories" of cheaper fuel are allowed to circulate unopposed!

The law of conservation of energy put's a stop to most biofuels; the Sierra club puts a stop to most other plans(you don't save the planet by plowing all of it).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 12, 2011 7:41 PM    Report this comment

      “'Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?' 'Supposing it didn't,' said Pooh. After careful thought Piglet was comforted by this.

Posted by: BILL ELLISON | June 13, 2011 1:24 AM    Report this comment

Bio-derived AVGAS will die under the weight of it’s own false-economics just as it will (and is) for MOGAS unless we allow the Letter Groups (FAA, EAA, AOPA, NBNA), who are laser focused on a drop-in 100LL replacement, to capitulate to the self-interests of the Bio-Fuel producers and allow bio-derived 100UL to be the only AVGAS produced.

Anyone for $15.00 a gallon Bio-100UL?

Posted by: KRIS LARSON | June 13, 2011 11:24 AM    Report this comment

I suspect that no matter the up-front cost (engine mods or, if it comes to that, totally new engines) the only way recip GA can survive is to give up on the quest for 100LL "alternatives" and hitch our wagon to one of the two mainline users...the Jet-A crowd or the automotive folk.
As long as we remain a tiny niche market that must have a specialty fuel we're balancing on our toes at the edge of a cliff.

Posted by: John Wilson | June 13, 2011 11:47 AM    Report this comment

OK, I'll bite. What was the significance of the Pooh and Piglet comment? I ask merely as someone who can and frequently does quote large passages from the two books. I just couldn't figure out what this one had to do with the fuel question.

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | June 13, 2011 1:34 PM    Report this comment

Well said, Mr. Wilson. It can't be all that hard to make fuel system parts that can withstand immersion in ethanol; cars do it, so the the materials exist. If aircraft ignition and mixture technology can catch up to car tech, octane won't be as much of an issue either. I'd happily pay $20/hr. less to fly (in the average trainer) simply by using pump gas instead of 100LL. Fuel costs are killing GA.

Posted by: Andy Manning | June 13, 2011 1:39 PM    Report this comment

I have been saying for years that in evaluating whether or not the buildup of carbon dioxide in our planet's atmosphere is indeed so serious as to justify the campaign of regulatory aggression we are seeing against the auto industry (35 miles per gallon CAFE by 2016 and perhaps as many as 60 MPG in the next ten or so years after that), we have to look at this possibility: If one already has a philosophical peeve against the auto (and hence inevitably also, general aviation as well), they are going to have an emotional vested interest in the idea of the world coming to an end from global warming. This kind of emotional vested interest is, as I see it, as important a motivational factor as financial vested interest resulting from holding stock in the oil industry.

If CO2 is however a real problem, I favor a carbon tax on all fossil fuels. It may sound cruel but I believe the American people are entitled to firm, but flexible incentive to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Fossil fuel taxation, I believe, would incentivize society as a whole to seek the most bang for the buck, i.e. the greatest reduction in CO2 in proportion to cost. Will that include biofuels? Maybe.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | June 13, 2011 1:59 PM    Report this comment

Perhaps the fossil fuel tax could be sold by pointing out that rich folks with their big homes and jets are going to pay more than the little people? What will actually happen instead is there will be loopholes with exclusions and special exemptions and non-exemptions and in the end, we will have an energy tax/policy that's as byzantine as our income tax code. I have no faith in simplicity ever triumphing.

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | June 13, 2011 2:24 PM    Report this comment

If you are correct that bio fuels (including the Swift version), are not viable, then we should just plan on keeping 100LL. Auto fuel won't work.

As for this comment: "Smil argues that the quickest way to restrain the cost of oil and thus avgas and Jet A is to aggressively raise the CAFE standards." That will just result in more auto deaths.

You want to cut the cost of oil? Drill, refine, distribute. Mine for coal. Drill for natural gas.

Posted by: Ronald Lee | June 13, 2011 2:32 PM    Report this comment

@Ron: If the main issue is shortage of fossil fuel, than "drill baby drill" would at least be arguable. But what if the real shortage isn't fossil fuel (Remember: we have lots of coal, shale, tar sands,
peat, and natural gas available via "fracking") but rather, ability of our planet's atmosphere to absorb all the CO2 we and the Chinese are putting out? If so, D.B.D. and mining more coal won't solve the problem.

Regarding higher and higher CAFE: If we raise CAFE, then one possibility is less safety. Another possibility, if we squeeze the auto industry harder and harder on both fuel economy and safety, is that the cars we drive won't even be able to reach 60 miles per hour, let alone accelerate from zero to 60 as quickly as we have come to expect from even mediocre cars. And aircraft? One wonders if sooner or later, the same intellectual element that doesn't like cars will also want to squeeze G.A. airplanes harder and harder on fuel economy and safety.

That's why I believe its better for society in the long run when gas becomes more expensive. People aren't buying more fuel-economical cars because of eco-idealism. They're doing so because the high cost of gas is hitting them in the wallet. That's the way the world works.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | June 13, 2011 2:46 PM    Report this comment

I vote with Mr Derosier's comment, "leave bio-fuels for the ground pounders", unless they can compete in the market with NO govt. money.
Electric airplanes may work fine for the training market if there is a rapid recharge capability similar to that claimed by super capacitors, but for cross country flight, I'm not so sure. Why carry all that weight that never diminishes? Electric works perfectly for all those one occupant commuter cars that can charge overnight at off peak hours, though.
Unfortunately, in this country at least, it seems like no one is willing to give up anything, change anything, think about the whole instead of their miniscule part, and God forbid PAY for anything to fix the mess in which we find ourselves, so I guess we'll just keep breeding ourselves into extinction, pissing and moaning about whose fault it is, all the way to the grave.

Posted by: RICHARD GIRARD | June 13, 2011 2:49 PM    Report this comment

"If CO2 is however a real problem, I favor a carbon tax"

It's WORLD Oil. A tax in the USA to reduce consumption means that world oil prices would lower accordingly. A US tax effectively is a subsidy for other countries to use world oil production. There is no logic in a world market for artificial(local) taxes to try to lower consumption; in fact, it's crazy.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 13, 2011 2:53 PM    Report this comment

Ron: "If you are correct that bio fuels (including the Swift version), are not viable, then we should just plan on keeping 100LL. Auto fuel won't work."

It is not our to decide to keep 100LL. Environmental groups, the EPA, and the general public decided a long time ago it has to go, whether we agree or not. Already it has virtually disappeared outside developed countries, and places like China and India are building their GA infrastructure around Jet-A and ethanol-free autogas. Ask any missionary aviation group about Avgas in the places they fly - it is no longer an affordable option. Auto fuel won't work? 70%-80% of the current piston engine fleet can run well on it. Nearly 100% of the new LSA fleet should run on it. If we remain obsessed with a one-size-fits-all solution instead of embracing free market choices, we all lose.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 13, 2011 3:02 PM    Report this comment

Andy: "Well said, Mr. Wilson. It can't be all that hard to make fuel system parts that can withstand immersion in ethanol; cars do it, so the the materials exist."

You are comparing apples (A/C fuel systems vented to atmospheric, planes that rarely fly relative to cars, severe power requirements affected by ethanol) to oranges (cars' closed fuel systems, frequent refills of fuel, minimal safety issue if engine quits). Besides, the ethanol mandates in the EISA 2007 Act aim to take all fuel in the US to E85, that's 85% ethanol, which requires 40% more fuel to have the same power. There goes your range and/or power. Most materials in cars will not handle more than 10%-20% ethanol. Biofuels in aviation is a non-starter, and our measly 160,000 piston airplanes share the same plight with an estimated 650 million other gasoline engines that are harmed by any presence of ethanol. This is one of those rare issues affecting GA where we should be joining with other interest groups (boaters, bikers, old cars, power tools, ATVs, snowmobiles) to for a change in a bad law passed by our fellow citizens. That's how a representative Democracy is supposed to work, not just accept all the merde that gets dumped on us from D.C.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 13, 2011 3:13 PM    Report this comment

"I have been saying for years that in evaluating whether or not the buildup of carbon dioxide in our planet's atmosphere is indeed so serious as to justify the campaign of regulatory aggression we are seeing against the auto industry (35 miles per gallon CAFE by 2016 and perhaps as many as 60 MPG in the next ten or so years after that), we have to look at this possibility"

Smil's argument addresses the demand side from the price elasticity of gasoline, not the CO2 load. His view is that higher mileage standards are more technically achievable than having biofuels replace a meaningful amount of liquid transportation fuels. Lowered demand would then pressure prices downward. Lutz, somewhat surprisingly, favors gracefully escalating fuel taxes more toward the European model. He thinks higher CAFE standards beat up on the car industry too much.

Worth nothing is that we have been here before. Between 1981--after the second oil shock--and 1985, the U.S. reduced its consumption by more than 1M bbl per day, almost entirely due to price response. Oil prices collapsed--one of the steepest in history--pressure came off the CAFE standards and, happy days, the SUV was invented. It was during the same time frame that "energy independence" gained steam and, thus, ethanol.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 13, 2011 4:03 PM    Report this comment

Things aren't that simple now because of China and India. If you draw the lines forward, as Rapier does, if China's per capita oil use reaches the U.S. level of 23/pp, it alone will have 85M bbl of daily demand, the entire current global production. Even if they don't, 9 percent growth rates will keep steady pressure on that 85 to 100M bbls.

If you run the "drill-baby-drill" chant by people in the upstream side of the oil business, they get awfully nervous. If that much oil can be found, producing it may outstrip the capital and technical limits of the industry. Reducing demand-however you do it--may be a far quicker short term solution for price trends. The Co2 load comes along for the ride. Or...let the prices run wild and let the market respond by demanding for efficient vehicles.

None of these CO2 schemes make any sense to me. Not cap-and-trade, not carbon taxes, not sequestration. The numbers are just too immense. If the climate data is right--and I think it is--better get ready for a warmer world. When the age of oil declines, natural gas increases its primary share and nuclear resurges, then the trend may reverse. Meanwhile, nothing else seems likely to affect the outcome much, least of all Jet A from camelina.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 13, 2011 4:23 PM    Report this comment

"If CO2 is however a real problem ..."

Except that it's not.

The supposed link between CO2 and global temperatures is poorly understood, and the consequences of reducing atmospheric CO2 are even less well understood.

I've got no problem with conservation, and doing what makes economic sense for each individual (e.g. turning off the lights, more efficient cars, etc). But let’s not fool ourselves that carbon taxes and other regulatory magic will cure all that ails the Earth. The Law of Unintended Consequences still applies.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 13, 2011 4:27 PM    Report this comment

"If the climate data is right--and I think it is--better get ready for a warmer world. "

If a warmer world is the consequence of burning all that oil, then overall I'd say bring it on. Warmer climates correlate very well with increased prosperity.

Yes, I know, Unintended Consequences and all that. I'm willing to take that risk for greater worldwide prosperity. Maybe by then I'll be able to afford to fly.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 13, 2011 4:32 PM    Report this comment

This is bit OT for general aviation, but the Porsche 911 GT2 makes 620 Hp. Seems like CAFE could be pushed up considerably and this technology could be used to make say, 100 Hp for efficient and reasonable everday commuter cars. Anyone know what BSFC these things can make?

Europe has always had higher fuel taxes than us and they manage to live acceptable life-styles. It is about time we bite the bullet.

Again OT, the LATimes did a poll about gas pricing and when it might affect driving decisions. The response was when it got over $6.00 per gallon. Why not put it there with taxes?

Posted by: Edd Weninger | June 13, 2011 5:53 PM    Report this comment

"the LATimes did a poll about gas pricing and when it might affect driving decisions. The response was when it got over $6.00 per gallon. Why not put it there with taxes?"

Because government will do something stupid with the money!

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 13, 2011 6:31 PM    Report this comment

"Why not put it there with taxes?"

How about because it's just using the power of government to attempt to engineer society, and that's wrong?

Europe manages to live with high fuel taxes for many and varied reasons. But a big part of that is the population density is much higher there and consequently it's quite possible to live without owning a car as jobs, services, grocery stores, etc are close enough to walk/bike to for the much of the population, plus they have public transportation on a scale not practicable here.

There are legitimate functions of government (and controlling our driving habits is NOT one of them), and those take taxes to sustain. Since we have this wonderful thing called a Constitution that clearly enumerates the powers of the Federal government I respectfully suggest we return to those principles. Doing so would cut the size and scope of the .gov by 50-75% (depending on how strictly you apply the restrictions of the constitution). That would moot any need for increased revenue for decades.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 13, 2011 6:42 PM    Report this comment

"If the climate data is right--and I think it is--better get ready for a warmer world. "

The geological, ice, tree and written records indicate the earth has emerged from numerous periods of cooling with ice sheets several miles deep covering a large percentage of the northern lattitudes, so thank your sweet bippy for global warming. If it reverses we're in trouble.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 13, 2011 7:49 PM    Report this comment

As for data, Climategate is about Michael Mann cooking the temp data to make the Medieval warming disappear from the CO2 vs global temp graph (the hockey stick graph) in the latest IPCC report. Prior reports included the medieval data, which made the current temp projections less impressive. they also deleted the notes to the graph, which explained that from 1990 to present are just projections and not data based. Why? Because terrestrial and satellite data sets disagree. Terrestrial weather stations have been encroached by urban heat sources and are 'adjusted' using unpublished algorithms. It shows a warming but is highly contested. Satellite data show a cooling since 1990. If they used satellite data and added back the medieval warming the hocky-stick disappears and And Al Gore becomes just be another VP.

Al Gore claims higher CO2 causes warmer temps. There is data showing the reverse - Warmer seas hold less CO2 - which pretty much mirrors how beer goes flat.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 13, 2011 7:51 PM    Report this comment

As an exercise I suggest gentle readers google 'the invention of the thermometer.' They haven't been around that long. Precision, accuracy, and reproducibility are a rather recent improvement, and such devices have only been available from about 1850 to present. So the Mann graph goes back from 1850 to 1000 AD using proxy data, and from 1990 to present using computer projections. That leaves data from 1850 to 1990 that is actual recorded data, and it's hardly flawless. When global warming is projected off of fractions of a degree of change it's easy to suspect I'm being lectured using arguments based on statistical noise. Tossing out nonsense like 'the debate is over' further brings out the skeptic in me because it avoids proof. In science the debate is almost never over. Claiming otherwise is just forcing a point of view in my opinion.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 13, 2011 7:51 PM    Report this comment

"....Europe manages to live with high fuel taxes for many and varied reasons...."

People in Europe seem to be generally happy with their life-styles. They have been subject to higher fuel taxes for some time and seem to have adapted well. I submit we think seriously about doing the same. We need to think seriously about solving our deficit issue. At the same time, we all know we use too much energy per person. SUV jokes abound.

The Constitution allows rights, you can chose to do as you please, but a bit of social persuasion in the right direction to begin to solve serious problems seems logical to me, and we can adjust to whatever we want to do.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | June 13, 2011 8:12 PM    Report this comment

"I submit we think seriously about doing the same"

We? We? Since when did anyone WANT higher AvGas prices? If YOU feel that way, then YOU pay double for gas. Go ahead. If you want to talk logic then It's not logical to give more money to a system that wastes almost 50% of what it takes in "just because". On a cost/benefit logic it's crazy to do that!

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 13, 2011 9:45 PM    Report this comment

"OK, I'll bite. What was the significance of the Pooh and Piglet comment? I ask merely as someone who can and frequently does quote large passages from the two books. I just couldn't figure out what this one had to do with the fuel "

I guess I get weary of the doom an gloom. Piglet, bless him, always fretted about everything.

Ed Abbey, an early green, of the gun toting variety, as I aspire to, famously said the quicker we burn up the last drop the quicker we can get onto the next thing.

Posted by: BILL ELLISON | June 13, 2011 9:48 PM    Report this comment

"I submit we think seriously about doing the same."

Let me think about that [pauses for a nanosecond]: NO!

"We need to think seriously about solving our deficit issue."

Yes we do. By cutting spending. We don't have a tax revenue problem in this country. We have a Congress that hasn't been able to say "No" to any spending program for 80+ years. I was appalled at the spending under Bush 43 and the then GOP controlled Congress. The last 2 years of Bush, and then Obama and the Dem controlled congress have succeeded in making me pine for those fjords.

"At the same time, we all know we use too much energy per person."

And without that energy use we'd much, much poorer. If that's the life you want to lead, go ahead. Just don't force me to tag along.

"The Constitution allows rights, you can chose to do as you please, but a bit of social persuasion in the right direction to begin to solve serious problems seems logical to me, and we can adjust to whatever we want to do."

[Migraine salute] The Constitution does not "allow rights". It recognizes them and enjoins the .gov from infringing on them. We can "do as (we) please" but then there's "social persuasion"? Which is it? We either have freedom or we don't. That whole paragraph is contradictions and non-sequitors. [/Migraine salute]

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 13, 2011 11:40 PM    Report this comment

CO2 world wide is the issue. Climategate had little to do with "cooking the data", and a lot to do with unfounded allegations and bruised egos. I have no "philosophical peeve" against the auto or general aviation.

I do believe the following are the facts:

1) Since 1990, Mean Northern hemisphere and global temperatures have been higher than the medieval warming, and are rising rapidly.
2) CO2 levels are rising above all historical records.
3) The sea level is rising.

The latest projection is that under the "Drill baby Drill" scenario, mean sea levels will rise 8ft in the next 40 years.
So what? KOPF & KTMB and much of Miami are at 8ft above today's sea level. Much of Florida, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Mississippi delta lie below 8ft (think storm surge). This does not imply a large ice melting event. In the last ice age, sea levels were down as much as 300ft. If the Antarctic ice cap were to melt, I am told sea levels would rise 230ft.

Posted by: D. Michael Platt | June 14, 2011 1:22 AM    Report this comment

Please, I will ask you to take your small-government and deficit rants elsewhere folks and focus on the topic of fuel economics and, secondarily emissions. That is what this topic is about.

Otherwise, I'll switch off the commenting.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 14, 2011 5:43 AM    Report this comment

Biofuel, ethanol, taxes, CAFE are all artificial manipulators of economics and they are politically imposed, not market driven. There is no "biofuel" demand in the market; period.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 14, 2011 7:39 AM    Report this comment

"There is no "biofuel" demand in the market; period."

This is demonstrably wrong. Both the Air Force and Navy say they want biofuels because of long-term security and supply concerns. That is demand. They are customers of the fuels industry.

The airlines, as a group, sat at the table with the CAFFI group and plainly said: We want bio-jet, specifically HRJ. Why? Because their future fuel research makes them worry about reliable supply and price stability and they want options on the table.

And that is why you have ASTM standards for HRJ. Everyone in the industry says none of this would have happened if the airlines hadn't demanded it. There's that word again. Demand.

Doesn't mean the economics will work or that they'll buy it. But this is the voice of the market for now. And by the way, emissions are only a secondary driver for both the military and airlines customs. Reliable supply at stable prices is major driver.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 14, 2011 9:02 AM    Report this comment

8ft is 2438mm. Sea level rise is on the order 1mm per year, IIRC. How they can even distinguish that from the noise in the data is another topic. But even if it's 10mm per year, you do the math on how long it'll take to get to 8ft of rise. Hint: it is a LOT more than 40 years. And the time scale to melt the Antarctic ice sheet is so lengthy that it really is not worth worrying about. We can't accurately predict the weather more than a day or two out, so we can't really assume that projections of permenant warming will hold true either.

As far as fuel economics and emmissions go it would be nice to get the lead out of the fuel, but not at a cost of $15/gal. Lead, aside from any health and environmental issues, is not good for many engines used by the weekend warriors, and is unnecessary for their safe operaion - with a few exceptions like the turbocharged and high compression engines.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 14, 2011 9:15 AM    Report this comment

"Doesn't mean the economics will work or that they'll buy it"

Energy markets work on low cost and long term supply (that means oil and natural gas and coal). Anything "bio" is more expensive, more complex, and less reliable. US Airlines are not demanding to pay more for energy just so cars (or other world airlines)can benefit from cheaper petroleum fuel.

It's a world market. Expensive bio production in the USA only subsidizes lower world oil/gas prices and availability for everyone else. I seriously doubt if US CEO's could convince their board or US Congress could convince the voters to pay a lot more just so everyone else in the world will benefit for the next 50-100 years...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 14, 2011 10:38 AM    Report this comment

"I seriously doubt if US CEO's could convince their board or US Congress could convince the voters to pay a lot more just so everyone else in the world will benefit for the next 50-100 years..."

So do I. But the fact is, the airlines are interested enough to cover their bases, hence genuine demand for this option. The reality is that if oil production hits a plateau or even peaks and BRIC demand keeps pressure on supply, high prices will sustain. Unlike us, those are strong energy growth markets in the transportation sectors. The U.S. isn't.

This could make some of the biofuels viable. I continue to be be skeptical, but the wise skeptic is one with an open mind and a plan just in case.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 14, 2011 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Paul, in your opinion, what would a sane national energy policy look like?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 14, 2011 1:54 PM    Report this comment

Tom, unfortunately the NatGeo article misses the most salient point about the problem with biofuel(as they discovered in the 70's) is that it does not scale well up well at all.

The massive amounts of material required for Ethanol for a country like the USA would make "strip mining" look environmentally friendly.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 14, 2011 2:32 PM    Report this comment

Mark: It appears that Brazil scaled it up well enough to get by with subsidies, and flex-fuel seems to be a success without subsidies. My point is that there are whole countries who have done what some think we should do so perhaps we need to learn from it, which I think is part of Paul's point of the blog.

The devil is in the details. It would be useful to ask Brazilians who lived thru this to get on the street opinions. It might not be nearly as rosy as NG makes it out to be.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 14, 2011 3:10 PM    Report this comment

Sane national energy policy vs one that could be executed are two different things, I think.

In principle, I like the N-to-N approach: natural gas to nuclear. Basically, it takes pressure off liquid petroleum by ramping up natural gas as a transportation fuel where applicable. It obviously isn't for airplanes. NexGen nuclear then provides a larger share of electrical generation, easing the emission problem coal has. U.S. is about 20 percent nuclear now, while France is at 70 percent and is a net electricity exporter. If they can, we can. Watch for Germany to reverse it decision to phase out nuclear.

Short term, I think we have move up the CAFE standards a little and/or tax fuel a little. To me, this is pure survival instinct because if your business uses a lot less liquid petroleum and/or your car a lot less gas, you're less vulnerable to the kind of huge price surges we are likely to continue to see from BRIC demand. I don't buy the drill-baby-drill argument that you can produce your way back to the 1960s. The oil is there, but the easy oil isn't.

I'm always amazed when people get pissed at the price of gas. It's supply and demand, folks. The self-help response is to insulate yourself by requiring less--not necessarily driving less--but with an efficient vehicle.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 14, 2011 3:20 PM    Report this comment

I was talking about environmental impact from "large scale" farming that's required. If you scan ahead in NG to 2010 they did address the ecological disaster associated with how many acres of land clearing are needed for fuel.

The "details" of Brazil is that the subsidies are from Petrobras. Look at how Petrobras is increasing it's off shore drilling. The "details" show that Brazil is pro-oil...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 14, 2011 3:27 PM    Report this comment

Or you can do this with pure market forces. That's what happened in 1981. But it can be painful and economically disruptive because of the huge spikes we're likely to see. When you see $160 oil--and you will--that's $5 gas. That really hurts the poor sot who's driving a 16MPG Suburban who didn't look ahead for a better solution.

I get that people don't want to drive small little S^%$tbox cars and they shouldn't have to. But it will just cost a lot more, that's all. Neither the government nor the oil companies can promise $60 oil against voracious demand. Can't see it happening.

For aviation fuel, gasoline will eventually just disappear, I think. Jet A pistons or small turbines will become dominant and that fuel--well, diesel-- is already being made in gas-to-liquid operations. At some magic number for oil prices, coal-to-liquid becomes viable, if messy.

But those are longish timelines. Ten years from now, Jet-A pistons still won't be dominant globally, I'd wager. Nor will you see a lot of market penetration in NG ground vehicles. More than now, but not a lot.

That's my take from the research I have done. What's yours?

These transitions have historically taken a long time and there's no Moore's law equivalent in the energy business.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 14, 2011 3:39 PM    Report this comment

There is a wealth of historical information on the web regarding biofuels (mostly ethanol) as a base fuel and as an octane booster. It's an interesting read, and many of the things promoted today were tried and abandoned in the 30's and 40s. The development of Ethyl fluid containing Tetraethyl lead rendered much of it moot. TEL was rendered incompatible with catalytic converters, so other technologies were added to make up for it. The transition was quite ugly in my opinion, with cars that ran poorly until electronic fuel metering and ignition were developed. The cost of cars and trucks rose from $15k to $40k since then in part to cover the cost of technologies that make it possible to run on lead free mogas and other government mandates, so consumers have paid dearly.

The table of JP-8 fuel costs on the R Squared blog is interesting. JP8 price remained relatively constant until the 1990s when the price began to rise rapidly. It would be an interesting study to look at what happened globally since then to pin the tail on various causes. Is it demand; a dollar that is worth less; environmental policies; speculation, or?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 14, 2011 3:48 PM    Report this comment

It has always amazed me how often realistic mission profiles are overlooked in a person's aircraft. My personal flying in the old 172 hasn't changed much, but at 7.5 gph we can take it on family vacation for about the same total cost per mile as my wife's Pontiac Vibe (.41/mi for the car and .43/mi for the plane) Now, i've been flying several high performance singles and they really hurt at the gas pump. Funny thing is - most of those aircraft's owners only take 1 - 2 people with them most of the time. Do I prefer a Cherokee 6 to a 172 - heck yes, but which airplanes do you see only flying 10 hours a year?

Posted by: Josh Johnson | June 14, 2011 4:00 PM    Report this comment

Mark: Agreed. I attended a Feb Ag conference in Detroit where a urea (nitrogen fertilizer) producer spoke on the Obama goal of E15. He said it is impossible for reasons you state. More specifically, he is producing urea at capacity and importing from overseas to make up for the delta, doubling the spot price. The larger issue is that there isn't enough 'reserve' farmland in CRP to put into production. "Peak oil' might not be easily quantified, but peak ag' is apparently easier.

During the early 80s the USDA changed their wheat policies and paid by acre tilled. It was a cash cow that resulted in tillage of land that shouldn't have been. Dryland farm areas like Montana also have land that is best left as grassland but it also got tilled. The results were later described as the second Montana dust bowl as the thin topsoil blew off leaving mineral soil, transforming it from grassland to scrub land. Converted back to grazing land, 30 years later it requires up to 100 acres to support a cow/calf/month unit, which is equivalent to desert. Reclaimed strip-mined ground has to perform better than than.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 14, 2011 4:33 PM    Report this comment

"That really hurts the poor sot who's driving a 16MPG Suburban who didn't look ahead for a better solution."

I did the math last year (I drive a 16mpg car). Gas would have to hit almost $12/gal before buying a new efficient car made economic sense. The same is true of aircraft; I would not drop $250K for a new plane just to be more efficient.

The world consumers do the same thing; you run the numbers and choose what you can afford. What is obvious is that no one "can afford" biofuel on their own merits/cost. Biofuel only work if you ignore the (known) truly vast natural gas and coal reserves.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 14, 2011 5:23 PM    Report this comment

"Gas would have to hit almost $12/gal before buying a new efficient car made economic sense."

Except this isn't the way the car market works. When people come up on the replacement cycle, if gas prices are high, they shop for more economical cars. If they're low, they don't. High prices rush the replacement cycle.

And you seem to think your experience is the way everybody thinks, but it clearly is not. This from the Wall Street Journal in early May: "General Motors Co., Hyundai Motors Co. and several other auto makers reported big gains in U.S. new-vehicle sales for April as a recovering economy and high fuel prices spurred demand for small cars." Fox Biz reported that demand for small cars drove overall sales up over a year ago, with small cars making the incremental difference.

And this is at prices of only $4. At $6--which is where most surveys say the tipping point is--the tilt toward fuel efficiency might be huge.

Read Lutz's book. You'll learn, as I did, that car buying is largely an emotional experience, even though people march into dealerships with yellow pads and calculators. They buy on aesthetics first, other things second. Hint: build a nice looking small car.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 14, 2011 6:24 PM    Report this comment

Natural/propane gas as auto fuel used to be quite popular and I installed conversions on VW busses in the early 70s based on an article in Mother Earth News, which is still on the web, but of course instead of being sold as cheap bastard's delight, it's green and saving the earth from destruction. In Germany I noted a number of Audis with Propane fill ports. The Germans implemented a road tax on it about 1988, which seemed to erase any benefit. The conversion required a carburetor. I wonder how they fool EFI into using it?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 14, 2011 9:21 PM    Report this comment

"And you seem to think your experience is the way everybody thinks, but it clearly is not."

The car business is not the Energy business. The car business only illustrates that cheaper energy wins (in a pure economic situation). As energy costs go up, short-term purchases will follow the cheapest source. Biofuel is never the cheapest source. Q.E.D.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 14, 2011 10:00 PM    Report this comment

If gas well and truely is heading to $6/gal in the near term (color me skeptical, at least as a permenant increase) then I'm really glad I've gotten back on my bicycle. At 14mpg for my commute (so just over 1 gallon each way) that bike will not only save me a lot of gas money but keep me in good physical shape too. Did my best ever time today by a big margin. 19.5mph average.

Not going to trade that truck in anytime soon though. I like it too much and with nearly 5 acres I need a truck.

Re: LPG - I remember when I lived in New Zealand in 1994 my host family had a Ford Fairlane (probably 1970's vintage) that could run on either gasoline or LPG. It had tanks for both and a switch on the dash to swap between them. A bit less power as I recall on LPG, but it was much cheaper to run that way.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 15, 2011 12:59 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I'm very skeptical about the 'demand' for biofuels from airlines and the armed forces. Both commercial and military users can do sums and read books. Only an innumerate would believe that biofuels can form any significant portion of the energy mix - the energy per unit area of cultivated land is just far too small (per Smil & Bryce, as you know). The airlines are greenwashing, and the military are responding to the signals coming from DC - they know they're supposed to 'want' biofuels.

This whole biofuel/ethanol disaster is killing people by raising food prices, whilst providing nothing useful to anyone (except ADM & their ilk). It's clearly not 'green', consuming about a gallon of fossil oil per gallon of biofuel.

As always, the basic fix is to prevent vested interests making campaign contributions...

Posted by: Ceri Reid | June 15, 2011 2:59 AM    Report this comment

What I didn't mention about NG for vehicle use is the infrastructure problem. This is directly analogous to the E85 fiasco. Because of the ethanol mandates, it was once thought that E85 would help market all that ethanol. But no oil companies or distributors have stepped up to build wide distribution.

You see a little of it in the midwest, but that's about it. There are a ton of Flex Fuel cars that can burn it, because the car industry gets CAFE credit for Flex Fuel cars, even though everyone realizes they will never see a drop of it. Lot of them are poor mileage SUVs.

Here, there really is no demand for biofuel, if E85 is a biofuel. Not enough of it available and it suppresses mileage even more. NG faces the same challenge as a transportation fuel. It will take a major shock or very high prices to change that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 5:21 AM    Report this comment

" Only an innumerate would believe that biofuels can form any significant portion of the energy mix"

You're right. But there seem to be a lot of innumerates in the biofuels industry. Or maybe the fairer term is pollyannas. The biggest problem seems to be a failure to accept the sharp limitations in scale up economies. Unrealistic assumptions are plugged into the spreadsheets.

And some very intelligent people are doing this. True believers, so to speak. I'm not willing to say "never" about any of this, because the Wright brothers also heard that man would never fly. But the claims have to be examined realistically and because the technology is developmental, especially with regard to yields, that's not easy to do. In the meantime, I'm not buying any Virent stock.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 6:47 AM    Report this comment

"And some very intelligent people are doing this...True believers"

Be careful. Remember how big subsidies for climate research resulted in intelligent people who were smart enough to not offend those handing out grants? The biofuel industry also will not give you honest assessments as long as billions of subsidies are in play.

As far as laws, SUV's are a shining example of EPA/DOT policies. The need to exempt trucks from CAFE and safety resulted in a boom in SUV's. Changing the law to exclude lighter trucks just gave us heavier SUV's. Blaming SUV's is kinda funny since EPA/CAFE rules inspired them in the first place...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 15, 2011 7:43 AM    Report this comment

Market distortions caused by mandates and subsidies always result in the opposite ultimate result. For instance E10 has resulted in higher use of resources to produce an energy-poor fuel, skyrocketing food prices, a larger dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, unrest in Mexico and the Middle East, lower fuel mileage, increased use of leaded Avgas, and billions of dollars in property damage to engines that must now burn it. All this saps the little life that's left in our frail economy, part of the reason few have purchased E85 cars, which get terrible mileage BTW. For the same reason, a mandated one-fuel-only policy for piston aircraft will never work. The Pollyannas seem now to be lurching from biofuels to electrics, and have already taken their toll in the loss of German test pilot Martin Wezel, testing the Yuneec four-seater in China. Just leave markets and consumers to sort things out and we'll generally have a solution that is optimum.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 15, 2011 8:59 AM    Report this comment

It's interesting to speculate what would have happened with no CAFE standards at all. The Big Three complained bitterly that when they were first proposed, it favored the Japanese manufacturers because they had small, light, economical vehicles. Yet in 1979 or so, demand for these vehicles went through the roof. Miles driven took the largest dive in U.S. history, although 2009 has since matched it.

Ironically, U.S. carmakers decried government interference with CAFE while at the same time pushing for government tariffs and export restraints against the Japanese manufacturers. Yet the importers weren't dumping, they just had the economy vehicles U.S. buyers wanted.

And thus did GM lose its dominant global marketshare. The importers had small, light vehicles largely because of high fuel costs. High fuel taxes in Europe and Japan meant they had competitive cars when oil prices reached the tipping point. Those countries subsidized their auto industries, but they were still competitive in the U.S., where all we did was complain about how unfair it was.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 9:46 AM    Report this comment

Good point Paul. Not sure about other countries, but I do not recall subsidies for the 7 German car companies in all the years I have lived or traveled there. High taxes on fuels have always made it expensive, but many, maybe most, of the high-performance, lower mileage cars on autobahns are in fact used for business, far preferred over airlines or trains. Germany's and France's preference for diesel fuel kept its price relatively low, resulting in amazing performance and emission gains by diesel-powered cars there, just now reaching the US, 15-20 years behind Europe. Now we see the spin-off for aviation with Jet-A piston engines derived from car diesel engine technology that the US has completely missed due to ignorance and prejudice against diesel, combined with contrived CAFE rules and Rube Goldberg hybrids. The EPA's ridiculous means of computing the reported mileage for hybrid and coal-powered (battery) cars show that it's all part of a big hoax created by crony capitalists and supported by their useful idiots in Congress, just like biofuels.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 15, 2011 10:03 AM    Report this comment

The Chevy Volt is only selling few hundred a month, and their goal was about a thousand. Last winter Consumer Reports tried to be positive about it, but came across as lukewarm at best. Some touted it as a car built by Greens for Greens. Apparently even the Greens are not getting enough Cool-Aid?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 15, 2011 10:24 AM    Report this comment

Everyone wants to be "Green", until it costs money or diminishes the quality of life. I think this is the fourth wave of green-ness I have lived through in the US and Germany since the late 1960s. They are all so predictable, just ignore the hype and follow the money.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 15, 2011 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Current oil based Jet fuel works well in diesel compression engines, but bio derived Jet fuel will not. I have hoped that TCM would move forward with a diesel replacement for my airplane, but bio fuel may well thwart that engineering solution. As a free market pragmatist I don't think a long term solution exists for a separate distinct aviation "boutique" fuel, our numbers are just too small. The distribution/marketing/manufacturing issues are just too great for the small numbers being served. Kind of a perverse situation where we need to use much more or piggy back on an existing marketing structure. Ultimately I think if we're lucky, we'll end up with "FADEC" type solution using existing engine management technology to run slightly lower octane fuel. I don't see a better solution, and even if 100LL were not "mandated" out of use, we're probably on borrowed time due to distribution and cost issues.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 15, 2011 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Burns, why do you think the bio-derived heavy fuels won't work in pistons? There was some worry about cetane rating, but bio-desiel actually has a cetane in the 40s, which is supposed to be sufficient.

HRJ is a little different. Then there's SPK, which is not really a bio-fuel. I don't know if either has been tested specifically in an aerodiesel, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had been.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 11:04 AM    Report this comment

"It's interesting to speculate what would have happened with no CAFE standards at all"

It's not that hard at all if you understand people. When most people buy a more efficient car then their driving(usage)usually goes UP. Psychologically consumers will drive as a fixed "$" amount. That's why I brought up COSTS more than "image". People who change to an efficient car will be more open to drive more miles because now they can. GA Airplane owners do the same thing, the less g/hr you burn , the more hours you will be out flying.

That is precisely why high efficiency does not "pay off" with lower emissions or lessen demand the way that CAFE proponents like to tout. Efficiency breeds more usage. Inefficiency means less usage. Make all cars to get 50mpg and suddenly people will forget about combining errands.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 15, 2011 11:11 AM    Report this comment

Ken, I should have been more specific on the subsidies. In both Germany and Japan, health care is government provided. The U.S. automakers have always seen this as a subsidy, because health insurance has traditionally been a high cost for them, especially for retirees.

Second, loan guarantees: Japan granted them when the industries were starting and may have done so since. And last, the currency manipulation was a common complaint against Japan during the 1980s, less so since the Plaza Accord of 1985.

So while it's not a perfectly level playing field, it's not all that slanted, either.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 11:12 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I only know Germany, and in my last business there both I, as the employer, and the employee are required to each pay 50% of monthly insurance premiums. There are a wide variety of private insurance companies to choose from, those fulfilling the government mandates and those (called "Privatversicherungen") that go beyond the mandates, cost a bit more, but put you at the front of the line when needing care. Other than mandates for premium payments, there is no "government-provided" health care in Germany I'm aware of, except I suppose for the unemployed.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 15, 2011 11:27 AM    Report this comment

Paul - didn't Exxon or Shell issue a warning against the use of Jet-A in aircraft diesels a few years ago? I seem to recall it had something to do with the lubricating characteristics of diesel fuel that are not present in Jet-A.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 15, 2011 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Now it's bio-aerodiesel Paul? You've got to be kidding.

Develop a whole new process to make a fuel, then develop a whole new technology to run on that fuel. Then certify the whole lot?

The stated reason we don't have (the already certified) 91/96 unleaded AVGAS is that it's too problematic to build the infrastructure (even though 70% of the piston fleet can use it).

So the solution is to develop a fuel than less than 1% of the fleet can use? If we can’t convince the distributors and FBOs to sell 2 grades of AVGAS, do you think they will sell aerodiesel?

Posted by: KRIS LARSON | June 15, 2011 11:36 AM    Report this comment

"Efficiency breeds more usage."

This is the Jevons paradox, for those interested in reading about it. It's also called energy rebound. There's good data to suggest it's true in transportation fuels, but not in all segments. For example, if you buy a more efficient washer, do you do more washing? No.

There's also debate about how elastic the effect is. If the rebound is 10 percent, that's how much extra driving you do because of higher efficiency. But that doesn't equate to 10 percent more fuel usage. It's something less. So there can be a gain, depending on the efficiency improvement. Jevons alone is not an argument against efficiency or conservation.

The higher activity is a good thing, because it wears out the car, which must be replaced, it goes through tires, which much be replaced and so on. The inverse of high prices stifling usage is less attractive, as we are seeing in Florida. High gas prices depressed the tourist industry, spiking layoffs on top of layoffs.

In aviation, forget about it. Persistently high prices are killing activity, although that's not the only cause.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 11:46 AM    Report this comment

"didn't Exxon or Shell issue a warning against the use of Jet-A in aircraft diesels a few years ago?"

It was Exxon. I can't find the bulletin at the moment, but it related to Jet A having different ASTM approval than diesel, which, of course, it does. I think it was the work product of bored lawyers, frankly. They tamped it down with waivers of some kind.

On the social health care in Germany, I am just parroting the auto industry claim. But it does surprise me to learn they don't have universal national health care.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 11:57 AM    Report this comment

"didn't Exxon or Shell issue a warning against the use of Jet-A in aircraft diesels a few years ago?"

Yes they did (Exxon anyway). Their lawyers just got a burr up their back sides. The aerodiesels I've paid attention to were specifically designed to run on Jet-A. Prior to them getting sufficient experience they recommended using a lubricity additive as a cheap insurance but I think they have since stopped recommending that (could be wrong on that though). The issue is not so much for the engine as the fuel pump. Most auto diesels use a fuel pump that relies on the lubricity of the fuel, but the aerodiesels have, of course, had to use fuel pumps that don't.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 15, 2011 12:00 PM    Report this comment

Andrew - fascinating, thank you. I would guess that the most compelling reason to use a diesel is the cost and availability of Jet-A? I assume too that the same pressures that drive down diesel car weight will help with aircraft diesel engine weight?

Paul - Ironically, traditional US car makers used to pay 100% of employee insurance premiums, which has really spoiled them. Germany requires employees to pay half, which means they are more interested in cost control and staying healthy. England has universal health care (but many opt for "private" insurance there), not sure any other countries in Europe have this, but all I really know is Germany.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 15, 2011 12:20 PM    Report this comment

Germany requires employees to pay half

But have they always?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 15, 2011 12:33 PM    Report this comment

Paul - I worked for Dornier from 1980-1984, then ran an engineering business for a company from Chicago from 1991-1996, which I incorporated in Germany. Our office was near Frankfurt. In both instances, this was the case, employers and employees each paid exactly 50% of the monthly insurance premiums, this was required by law. Employees had their choice of insurance companies, which tend to be grouped by profession. So, most engineers were in the TK, Techniker Krankenkasse (technician medical insurance). Germany has a law requiring all working people to be insured, except those below a low annual wage threshold I believe. I do not agree with this part of Obama-Care, well I don't agree with any of it. But Germans are pretty complacent when it comes to all kinds of mandates/laws that many Americans would chafe at, for instance laws against mowing your yard, or flying on Sundays or during "quiet hours".

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 15, 2011 12:44 PM    Report this comment

".... I don't think a long term solution exists for a separate distinct aviation "boutique" fuel, our numbers are just too small. The distribution/marketing/manufacturing issues are just too great for the small numbers being served...."

But we do exactly this now with 100LL.

Even with a shrinking market, there is always money to be made on the downslope of the growth. So put me down as slightly more optimistic.

Like Paul, I'm very skeptical about biofuels of any persuasion. Heard a lot of fancy press releases in the early '70s. Not the same alternative fuels, but despite subsidies, nothing panned out.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | June 15, 2011 1:27 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Paul. I never heard of Jevons paradox (or the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate) before. It's a good read on human nature. Thank you.

Too bad because once you understand that CAFE fuel efficiency does not correspond to equal fuel savings, it paves the way for the "imposition" of increase gas taxes (or a failing economy) to accomplish real usage reductions.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 15, 2011 2:20 PM    Report this comment

Ed, I said that since we're losing infrastructure war. The less we use, the fewer the number of providers that will see the economic benefit of providing that service. And that's not counting the desire of the refineries to simplify the production process. A different low volume boutique fuel won't change the economic model that much. That's why I think we need to piggy back on an existing source. I do a lot of long distance flying and I'm always crossing my
fingers hoping that the small out of the way FBOs will still be there.

Paul, when I was researching this last year the issues of lubricating of the injectors and high pressure fuel pump wasn't considered adequate and then the question of congealing at low temps was raised. I just remember that after reading the article, it seemed a deal killer. There may have been other issues, but that's as I remember it.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 15, 2011 2:24 PM    Report this comment

"I would guess that the most compelling reason to use a diesel is the cost and availability of Jet-A?"

Pretty much. Jet-A will be available on virtually every airport that sells fuel for as long as turbine powered aircraft are the standard for the go-fast/far/heavy crowd. In pistons of equivalent horsepower, the cost per hour of Jet-A is like buying premium mo-gas for a gas engine due to the higher efficiency of diesel cycle.

Personally if I was dead set on buying a brand new airplane engine (rather than a mid-time one), and I was flying 200+ hours per year, I'd have to at least seriously consider a diesel. They cost more to buy but assuming the Otto-cycle engine under consideration required 100 octane that extra cost would be more than made up for by the improved fuel efficiency of the diesel by the time you got to overhaul. And it would immunize me from the issues of 100LL, plus ethanol in mo-gas.

But if a mid-time O-470 (originally certified to 80 octane IIRC) would do the job then it would be hard to justify the extra up front cost of the diesel.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 15, 2011 2:42 PM    Report this comment

"question of congealing at low temps was raised"

#2 diesel, and especially bio-diesel have problems with that. I don't remember their fog/gel points but's IIRC bio-diesel's is high enough that people at norther latitudes have problems using it in the winter in their trucks.

However Jet-A has a gel point somewhere near or below -40. Unless you take a piston up higher than is sensible that is not much of a problem. And most injected pistons are designed to return a signicant amount of fuel to the tank, and that return fuel would be heated by the engine which would help to keep tank temperatures well above -40.

"issues of lubricating of the injectors and high pressure fuel pump wasn't considered adequate "

If that is even still true, that is an engineering issue that shouldn't be too hard to solve.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | June 15, 2011 2:58 PM    Report this comment

The premise of the article as I understand it: volume requirements among other lesser scale-up issues make any claim of near-term ECONOMIC availability of biofuels deserving of a healthy degree of scepticism. Mostly, I agree. Then, it becomes clear from the comments/discussions following that many have equated avgas from bio sources and jet fuel from bio sources as equal problems. I was good with the premise until that point. Its time to point out a major distinction which seemingly is being ignored: the jet fuel annual reuirement is in excess of 50 billion gallons per year (that's with a "B" folks) versus a US avgas requirement of, depending upon whom you choose to believe, anywhere from 100 million gallons per year to 300 million gallons per year. For those that don't do well in thinking about really big numbers, including me, that is from 0.1 to 0.3 billion gal/yr. Somehow, I think my eyebrows don't go up quite as high in the case of avgas, and specifically Swift unleaded avgas as it need not be from a bio source, but it may be (probably will be) partially bio source-based.

Posted by: Robert Pizzola | June 15, 2011 3:08 PM    Report this comment

Following the stories about alternate fuels to 100LL, I got frustrated because, over several years, the articles were all the same. They talked about great promise, but I never saw any progress from year to year. It was still a promise. It seems switching to mogas is an acceptible solution to some people because it suits 70% of piston aircraft. What about the rest of us? Does my 300HP IO-540 become obsolete and a high priced boat anchor? Are those of us who own them just SOL? If necessary to choose, I would rather pay more for fuel than compromise the performance (safety?) of my plane.

As a car guy, I've always thought CAFE standards were ridiculous. You're working from the supply end, which doesn't work. Potential gains in efficiency aren't infinite. You eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. Spending more and more money to achieve smaller and smaller gains. When that happens, carmakers have two choices. They can build more efficient cars that nobody wants to buy, or they can pay the gas guzzler tax. Which one do you think they will choose? Working from the demand end works better. Of course, that would require higher gas taxes, which are politically un-popular with politicians and their constituents.

The whole debate is depressing. It makes me think I should sell my Cherokee 6 while it is still worth something (even in the current depressed market).

Posted by: John Worsley | June 15, 2011 8:38 PM    Report this comment

John don't get too discouraged. The 70% of aircraft that CAN use auto gas only use 30% of the total fuel. It's us big bore guys that use 70% of the total fuel gallonage. So whatever the ultimate solution, either we go along or nobody goes. The cold reality is the 520/550/540 are the market that has to be met or GA ceases to be a commercial entity, and that can happen, but ultimately I think we'll an acceptable solution. I think those screaming loudest all have an economic vested interest.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 15, 2011 11:09 PM    Report this comment

John and Burns - No advocate for Mogas that I am aware of has ever suggested that it should be a solution for 100% of the fleet. Right now, it is a great fuel for 70%-80% of legacy planes, and essentially 100% for the LSA sector, the fastest growing part of GA. Note too that the entire fleet from Tecnam, the world's largest light aircraft manufacturer, use Rotax and Lycoming engines that run on ethanol-free mogas. This includes their new 4-seat plane and their two 4/11 seat twins. While some speculate that 30% of airplanes need 100 octane and these burn 70% of the fuel (though they can never cite an accurate reference for these numbers), this group is shrinking at 4% annually as heavy twin owners continue switching to turbines. Remember too that airports do not only live from fuel revenue (and most of this is Jet-A, not Avgas). It's the many small airplanes that make up the bulk of hangar leases, keep maintenance shops and EAA chapters alive. What to do about those who need 100 octane? Embrace autogas as a means to lower the cost of flying for those who can use it, otherwise airports and GA die. More autogas also means less lead emissions, buying us more time to find an affordable 100-octane fuel. Keep your eyes open also for the new ADI water/methanol injection systems from Petersen Aviation & AirPlains, which will allow high-performance planes to operate on autogas with a reasonable expense for retrofit that can be amortized in two years.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 16, 2011 5:17 AM    Report this comment

Ah Kent, your position falters with comment " . . . ethanol-free mogas . . . " I am no proponent of converting our most important feed-stock to gas at a net energy loss, and it demonstrates what is wrong with our political process, but right now it is the 800 lb gorilla in the discussion. Personally, I'm hanging on for dilithium chrystals since they may be available before ethanol-free mogas. This is at least the third iteration of the "throw the big bore guys under the bus, and give us cheap fuel". As we have discussed many times, the economic model will probably only support ONE distribution model, As I've said many times, we're all in the same boat and sink or swim together, in spite of of your efforts to find a separate solution.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 16, 2011 8:55 AM    Report this comment

Burns - all 1000+ fuel terminals in the US have, by nature, ethanol-free fuel, since ethanol may not be pumped in the same pipelines. Terminals are happy to sell ethanol-free to airports, and there is already an enormous infrastructure in place to deliver fuel from these terminals to 120,000+ gas stations, marinas, farms, etc. Many airports have unused tanks from the original surge in autogas sales when lower grades of leaded fuel disappeared. A new small tank costs very little, really, especially compared to many things that airports today waste our money on, things that have little impact on GA pilots. If you watch the news, you'd know that ethanol has lost the few friends it had outside of its own lobby and politicians still beholden to it. As one oil expert from Canada said last year, the US biofuels policy is a train wreck in progress. It makes little sense in my mind to put all our eggs into one 100UL basket when we can easily tap into the enormous production and infrastructure that exists for gasoline. Plus, promoting ethanol-free fuel gives our tiny community a rare opportunity to join forces with the tens of millions of others who are in dire need of ethanol-free fuel for engines that are harmed by it. Instead, our leaders pursue an illusive fuel that will have a world market much smaller than even Avgas, since Europeans already have a multi-fuel (Avgas, autogas, 94UL, Jet-A) solution and the rest of the world has a dual fuel (autogas, Jet-A) solution.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 16, 2011 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Kent, all I can say is if was easy and economical, it would be happening. As I said before, I'm a committed Free Market Capitalist, with a healthy dose of pragmatism. And you should;mention that you have a vested interest is this coming to fruition. If my economic future was tied to this, I'd have equal fervor, but this is now my hobby, albeit one I love, but I must choose the most "doable" path, so I default to economic pragmatism, in part because that is what will in all likelyhood will unfold.
Best Regards, and good luck

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 16, 2011 10:17 AM    Report this comment

Burns - I too am a free-market capitalist through and through, always have been, which is why I detest being forced to support artificial markets created for biofuels that few want. What vested interest are you referring to? My interest is to see GA survive so my two A&P sons have work, the EAA chapter I lead (1114) stay strong and grassroots aviation in general survive. 99.9% of the fuel equipment I sell is for Avgas and Jet-A. In most instances, I advise airports needing a small tank for autogas to look for unused tanks at airports or from military surplus. You can find them for a song, really. All the important trends show a continued rapid decline in flying - the recent Golden West show in Marysville, CA shows that people are staying home and on the ground. There are few things that can lower the direct operating costs for aviation simpler than expanding the use of autogas, it's a no-brainer really. I guess I do have a vested interest: I want to afford to fly as I have since 1973 at the age 15. I do not accept the premise that it is not possible to reverse the current mandates on biofuels, especially in light of the many problems they are causing around the world.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 16, 2011 11:01 AM    Report this comment

John Wilson's comments above may not be accurate when it comes to offering an alternative that keeps the current (1940's-era) large GA recips running. Neither mogas nor Jet A will work in them, and the costs of a jerry-rigged FADEC or octane-boosting blends of chamomile flowers and chardonnay will make $5 100LL (it's $6.46 where I'm based) seem like a bargain.
BUT, he is absolutely correct when he lays out this stark choice for GA: burn Jet A, mogas, or die. One look at the annual consumption of jet fuel vs 100LL is enough to convince a reasonable person that there is no economical way to produce a 100LL alternative. Economies of scale? Forget that. The volume just isn't there. This is a boutique sliver of the energy market, and as such, it will have to adapt to what's available. Inevitably, that will mean jet fuel and mogas. 6-cylinder diesel Bonanzas, and Rotax-class powerplants for everyone else.

Posted by: ROBIN WHITE | June 16, 2011 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Robin, I don't think it is quite that grave. High octane leaded fuels for motorsports have been around for years from Sunoco and VP Racing Fuels, so there appear to be companies willing to supply small markets like ours. Otherwise I agree, Jet-A production is about 20X more than Avgas, and the gap is widening as the historic big users of Avgas switch to Jet-A. It makes good sense to adapt to the enormous supply chain for autogas and Jet-A. Check out the ADI water/methanol injection from Petersen Aviation / AirPlains. It was certificated for Barons and C210s some years ago and is a lot less expensive than re-engining or de-rating engines. I understand they could offer it for most other planes now needing 100LL, would be a great thing for ABS, COPA, AOPA, EAA to fund.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 16, 2011 11:40 AM    Report this comment

I should research this, but it just occured to me at the drag racing track they have 100 octane gas as well as most other race tracks around. What is the difference in the 100 octane racing fuel and avgas? I assume if the raceing fuel is leaded then it will go away also, what are they looking at replacing it with? I've always thought a dissel (compression ignition) style engine running Jet-A as the best alternative as it removes a point of failure (no ignition) but does weigh more per gallon than 100LL but less than automotive dissel. Of course it will require upfront cost.

Posted by: Joseph Chambers | June 16, 2011 11:57 AM    Report this comment

I don't think it's quite that grave either, although it's true the long-term prospects for 100-octane fuel are not bright. Short-term, not so bad, although progress toward these is slow, it is moving.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 16, 2011 12:11 PM    Report this comment

I'd love to be able to agree with you. But I'm standing out on an empty ramp as I write this; a ramp that used to be full of local GA aircraft. Annual GA ops here have plummeted since 2002. Commercial, air taxi and military flights have also been hit. "Transient GA" (mainly bizjets) are the least affected. It looks alarmingly like a death spiral. Fewer aircraft requiring fewer gallons of 100LL and fewer services drives up everyone's costs. Higher costs drive flight hours down. And it's not happening because pilots have decided that lead is too harmful for the environment. It's economics.
Whether the EPA decides to ban the use of leaded avgas or not, pilots are just not buying the stuff in anything like the volumes they once did (and they weren't buying very much then compared with Jet-A sales then, either). That's why it seems to me that 100LL's "grave long term prospects" are now.

Posted by: ROBIN WHITE | June 16, 2011 3:41 PM    Report this comment

Robin, you hit the nail on the head. A friend of mine who runs a local airport said she sold 38,000g of Avgas last year. 10 years ago she sold 80,000g at the same airport. Since most hangars are leased by recreational pilots, many now go empty, or are filled with non-flying junk. An airport here (5W5) that was once the leading training airfield in our area is now mostly used for storage, row upon row of nice hangars full of cars and junk and the runway is full of weeds and mud. The only area I can see a chance to lower the cost of flying for recreational pilots is fuel, and autogas gives us that now if we can just convince airports to support it. As long as airport commissions continue to rename airports into jetports and focus on Jet-A sales, nothing will stop this downhill slide.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 16, 2011 7:42 PM    Report this comment

Oh come on guys, you're deluding yourselves . . . Mogas is only a buck or a little more than car gas. When you throw in the time and straight line advantages, for me to fly to from So TX to Utah, KOMA, DSDM or KORF it's actually cheaper to fly vs. drive. Mogas at 4 & 100LL at 5 isn't the deal killer your making it out to be. We may have some real problems, but the $1 - $1.50 delta isn't it. When I was in Aviation Safety School at the Naval Post Graduate School "Games People Play" by Eric Berne was required reading, and now we're seeing on of the favorite negative games, Ain't It Awful. Let's come up with something positive.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 16, 2011 8:32 PM    Report this comment

Have to agree with Burns, guys. Look at this rationally. It is true that GA is in decline and it's also true that the volume of 100LL sold will continue to shrink.

But I don't think the decline is entirely the result of fuel costs or worries about availability, although these are definite factors. I think if you lowered the price of avgas to the price of mogas today, you would see a definite spike in activity, but not nearly enough to turn the industry around or even arrest the decline.

Relative to the confidence factor in avgas, I still believe what I have been saying all along: The industry is looking for the solution, but moving too slowly and not communicating what progress it is making at all well. This just erodes confidence.

For me personally, I'm not flying as much as I was once was not because of cost. I can easily afford the gas. I just have too many other things to do that I have to do, so flying gets put at the bottom of the list.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 17, 2011 7:47 AM    Report this comment

Lower fuel costs for autogas may not be the single silver bullet some hope to find to help GA, but it is one that's fairly achievable. Pilots would now go out of their way to top-off for $1 less, in fact our largest flying club here in central NC (Wings of Carolina) recommends its pilots to top-off at an airport 21nm away (5W8) instead of buying at their home base, KTTA. The price differential is currently $1.03 for Avgas. The alternative is to accept a single grade of Avgas which for most has more octane than needed, a waste of money. The eventual replacement for Avgas, 100UL, will surely not be less expensive, and will remain a miniscule production volume compared to autogas. Seen the AirNav aviation fuel table lately? The number of FBOs selling Avgas continues a steady decline, where the number of FBOs selling autogas has slightly increased, there are still too few but the trends are telling.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 17, 2011 8:17 AM    Report this comment

Kent, lets do a little "reality therapy" and take your trends to your ultimate end point: The 30% market segment is, by your definition, "increasing slightly" and the 70% market segment is "steadily declining". Now when we get to the point that your desired market segment is 100% of GA fuel sales, where will we (you actually, since I'll be flying hot air balloons by then) be? Do you really think that EAA & LSA can carry Garmin, TCM, Lycoming, AOPA, fight off the anti airport elements and the support the various CFIs, maintenance shops etc?
I understand your desire to support your fuel tank sales business, and forcing FBOs to all buy a new mogas tank will help your financial outlook, but not sure it'll do much to further GA. You challenged the 30/70 fuel split with the comment that you'd never seen an hard data to support it, but I'll wager that after the FAA's Re-Registration program is complete, there'll be a lot less of the mogas capable aircraft on the rolls so the split may even swing more toward the 100LL req'd numbers.
I paraphrased Ben Franklin in a long past blog, but it's more true today: "We surely will all sink or swim together". He said Hang, but that's a little too harsh for this topic.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 17, 2011 9:17 AM    Report this comment

Burns, your comments on my "fuel tank business" are without a shred of evidence, in fact I just recommended again to a pilot based in Prescott, AZ, that he should look for a small government surplus fuel trailer/truck as a good means to get autogas onto his local airport. Not a single airport we have helped has purchased a new fuel system for autogas, at least not from our company. You may be surprised to learn that there are some people still in aviation who devote free time to the betterment of all without en expected personal gain. Same holds for my many fellow EAA chapter presidents. Who ever claimed that the current 70% group will ever go to 0% ? My point is that one should also consider the other sources of revenue at airports, for instance hangar leases, maintenance shops, restaurants, pilot shops, flight schools, etc. Most of these are sustained by the recreational flyer, not the guys flying Bos, Cirruses, Twins, etc, who tend to take their planes to specialized depots. They are also not the typical EAA chapter member who will fight for the survival of his local airport. There is no one simple solution, we need all sectors to be as healthy as possible. Forcing though the vast majority of aircraft owners to use a fuel that is not ideal for their aircraft, and more expensive than necessary, can not be good. Why is it that so many in GA accept one-size-fits-all? All I ask is that people give autogas a shot, and not stand in its way.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 17, 2011 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Kent I think I need to do a better job of explaining my position, but first if i misread your web page I'm sorry, and I really wish you a most successful venture. I think we need to accept that we, the hobbyist piggy back on that segment of GA that uses GA for business purposes. A businessman bought my Bonanza in '83 to further his business, and it trickled down to me. I have a G500 & TAS800 because Garmin was able to take the technology it developed for the G1000 (an almost pure commercial device) and allow it to trickle down to us. They would have never spent the money & engineering effort for the hobbyist, but we piggy backed on their financial investment. You could argue that the big guys subsidize the hobbyist. (con’t)

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 17, 2011 12:39 PM    Report this comment

How does this relate to us? All the FBO's that I know are really sharp businessmen, they have to be to still be here. Even if there was a market to support mogas, it would detract from the 100LL sales, and cut from the bottom line. The FBO owners know that homebuilts and LSAs wont support their business model, so they aren’t going to sink their own boat. So worst case scenario, you are supporting the big bore guys, just as the airlines and BA support us. It is a synergistic (I love that word) win for all of use. Could one community do better for the short term? Possibly, but long term we need to think globally and what’s best for the collective community. It makes so much sense to me, but I keep hearing “yah but I could fly cheaper . . . and that’s all that counts.“ No, on the global scale, that isn’t going to float the collective boat.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 17, 2011 12:39 PM    Report this comment

Burns, GA is a very, very diverse community. There are the big FBO chains that cater to corporate aviation, then there are countless mom-and-pop FBOs that are just hanging on at airports with 10-20 old Cessnas and Pipers that are rarely flown. Many of these planes are worth less than a single fancy Garmin unit, as nice as these are. Note also that the largest growing sector of GA is in fact homebuilts, with over 30,000 now certificated. Why? Because they are very affordable for those willing to invest their own sweat equity. The majority of these homebuilts use components that are not TSOd for certificated aircraft, see for instance Dynon avionics/auto pilots, TruTrac autopilots, Van's RV-12, etc. These all represent the cutting edge of technology in their class and have not trickled down from commercial aviation.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 17, 2011 1:02 PM    Report this comment

Cont': The hottest thing among pilots today are software-based packages running on commodity IPads, we'll probably use one on a 1960s Stits SA-7D Skycoupe we're restoring. A friend who flies a B767 says an IPad with ForeFlight or WingX is more advanced than what he has in his cockpit, and it's all from the grassroots, homebuilding movement from pilots who count their pennies to fly on their own nickels, generally a better source for innovation than a large corporation. This is another example how GA can profit from a huge commodity market, just as autogas for aviation takes advantage of the huge production of gasoline for vehicles. To continue down the path of niche, boutique products for our tiny community makes no sense to me, but that is where many of our so-called leaders are taking us with the one-size-fits-all search for the mythical perfect replacement to Avgas. The attempt to leverage support from the Green crowd, the original theme of this thread, shows that these niche solutions will never work in a free market and need subsidies, mandates or coercion to continue. Efforts to block autogas - and they are real, trust me - skew free markets and always result in negative consequences, in our case, an acceleration of the downhill slide we're on.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 17, 2011 1:02 PM    Report this comment

Kent, what are those IPads running? Let me guess, Jeppessen Charts maybe. The only homebuilt that matches the Bonanza is the Lancair and look at it's cost. I'll never critique homebuilts, but there capabilities are nowhere close to Bonanzas/Saratogas. And where did the engines come from? Kent it is a synergistic wave that carries us all, and if there was an economic model that supported an additional fuel delivery system, it would exist. On a side note, I don't know what airline your friend flies for, but as a 757/767/777 and now 787 Instructor Pilot, with the exception of Synthetic Vision (only available on G1000 & G500/600), there is no comparison between what a modern Boeing can do. The capabilities of Electronic Flight Bags, Electronic Checklists, and Flight Management Computers would boggle your mind, and hopefully some of it will trickle down. I don't know what the final fuel solution will be, but I'm pretty sure that if it forces ANY segment into extinction, we'll all suffer. 96 octane kills Lycoming 540s and TCM TN520/550 and decreases the power of NA520/550, so I'm guessing that 96 is a non starter. Swift Fuel is starting to look like an AmWay marketing scheme, and GAMI 100UL probably will cost more, and your ethanol free mogas doesn't exist. Think I'll go and enjoy my plane this weekend.

Peace, and be safe

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 17, 2011 2:14 PM    Report this comment

Burns, look forward to seeing the B787 at Oshkosh. I was involved in its aero design, especially high-lift & low drag stuff. My friend's B767/B757 of course are not the latest, but it is pretty amazing that ForeFlight or WingX on an IPad have more navigational/synthetic vision capabilities than his B767, and for about $100/year plus the cost of the IPad. I'd put a decked out RV-10 up against a Bo, Cirrus or Saratoga any day, as far as bang for the buck and quality of engineering goes. There is a huge homebuilt-related industry that simply chooses not to sell to FAR Part 23 aircraft makers, and that's where you find cutting-edge technology in light aircraft, for instance Dynon or TruTrac. There are more technical papers of real substance at Airventure each year than at any of the dozens of AIAA engineering conferences I have attended since 1980. Ethanol free mogas exists at all fuel terminals in the US by definition, since ethanol may not be pumped through pipelines. Just because ethanol free, or Avgas for that matter, isn't available at the corner gas station does not mean we can not get it from the terminal to our airports. More autogas however does not have to come at the expense of less Avgas or 100LL, that's the point all mogas supporters try to make. For some reason, those who need 100 octane appear terrified of a tiny amount of autogas sold at their airports, really illogical. We need more choices, not fewer. I

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 17, 2011 4:47 PM    Report this comment

"ethanol free mogas doesn't exist". Not true. Ethanol is added at the truck before delivery to the retailer in states where this is their addiction, but it's not a federal mandate. Corn growing states can mandate E10 or whatever blend they desire, but other states do not, like Oklahoma and Montana. In corn states like MI one may still request ethanol-free fuel delivered to your tanks or you can fetch it from the distributors.

The EtoH is added at the rack because it cannot be transported via pipelines. Therein is a foot in the door for all users who need fuel that is Etoh free.

I might add from other Bertorelli blogs on the topic that E10 may not be the big killer some make it out to be. It's an octane improver. My Cessna owner's manual permits isoprophyl alcohol as a water scavenger. Granted, Ethanol might attack seals, which is easily tested or repaired on condition. Phase separation is the FAA's stated concern. In reality ethanol adulterated mogas simply hasn't been officially tested and there doesn't appear to be any planned. That's a pity if it turns out to be an urban legend.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 17, 2011 6:06 PM    Report this comment

Stihl and Husqvarna small engines both say warranties are void if operators run the proposed E15. Repair shops also claim engine burnouts and destruction blamed on E10. When I spoke to the repairmen they admitted the equipment may have been years old and the disintegrating rubber pipes blames on clogging jets and burning pistons may have been disintegrating anyway. My Artic Cat snowmobile jetting manual says E10 is equivalent to going one size smaller on the mainjet. If an operator is the type to lean an engine for max-rpm then using E10 exacerbates the problem. In reality I think it's more scapegoat and urban legend than fact. I also think that if states want to mandate it they - or the ethanol purveyors - should pay for testing.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 17, 2011 6:07 PM    Report this comment

Tom, Cessna did extensive testing of ethanol blends some years ago and made stern warnings against its use. Rotax & Jabiru have done the same. But the whole point is moot - the EISA 2007 Act aims at taking our fuel to E85, 85% ethanol. Adapting to E10 is pointless. The EPA has already approved E15 and we'll see it oozing into our gas stations in the coming years. Your point though on terminals having ethanol-free is well made though - that's where aviation should get its fuel, not the corner gas station.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 17, 2011 7:08 PM    Report this comment

But the Otters here are now pointy-nosed turboprops. A local Beaver was replaced by a Caravan. Hearst Air has a beautiful Turbo-Beaver. The older CL-215 is being replaced by the turboprop CL-415. Basler converts the DC-3 to a turboprop. The few AgCats being converted from turbines to the Trace/Orenda V8 won't affect the tidal shift among commercial operators from AvGas burners to Jet-A burners. The trend is for continuing shrinkage in demand for AvGas.

So it would be interesting to know how many gallons are burned by non-commercial operators, and how that is divided between us 40,000 C172 fliers and the big bore businessmen fliers. (I have flown my C172 on business, it just takes a bit longer to get there.) That might better indicate how the support is divided between "96UL suits me just fine" and "100UL or bust."

As far as "green" aviation fuel goes, if it is worth the effort it is for bio-kerosene, whether from wood pulp (as the plant in White River, ON, just north of here wil do), or from algae, recycled deep-frier oil, or whatever. That is what the military uses most and desires to have a secure independent (back-up) supply source of - though military activity has never really been considered "green" regardless of the colour of the uniforms (but that is another political can of worms).
J L De Foa

Posted by: Lance De Foa | June 19, 2011 1:15 AM    Report this comment

Good comments JL. Most of the aerial applicators for farms and forests here in NC use turbo-props, years ago they flew Avgas burning radials engine powered. JAARS, the big missionary aviation organization in Waxhaw, NC, is switching to an all Jet-A fleet (including diesels) since Avgas has disappeared in the places they fly. It makes incredible sense for GA to exploit the enormous volume production for autogas and Jet-A instead of sticking to a shrinking market for our own exclusive boutique fuels. But we need also to help those whose airplanes need an 100 octane fuel, which is why I'd encourage their type clubs to support mods like Petersen's ADI methane/water injection. It works, is FAA certified and can be amortized in a few years at most. If I owned a Bonanza, Baron, Mooney or a C210, that's what I'd be looking at most, the means to immunize myself from the certain end of our boutique fuels. This has to be a far simpler "fix" for Avgas than trying to get an entirely new boutique fuel onto airports and at affordable prices at most as high as Avgas.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | June 19, 2011 8:24 AM    Report this comment

How many acres/hectares would be needed to produce biofuel to replace even 50% of petroleum products?
What are we planning to eat when the farmland goes over to energy production? People get violent when hungry.

Posted by: George Mair | June 22, 2011 3:54 PM    Report this comment

i dont see any benefit from that
aircraft for sale

Posted by: mike maran | June 24, 2011 12:32 PM    Report this comment

If biofuels made economic sense without subsidies, farmers would run all their equipment on biofuels. Why would they continue to buy fuels at retail when they can make them themselves.

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | July 5, 2011 10:10 AM    Report this comment

While discussing this with my local bulk oil purveyor I found out he has a contract with Malmstrom AFB MT to provide E85 for their fleet of flex vehicles. He said that during temps of minus 20F or lower the fuel turned milky in their above-ground tank, so they made him salvage it. I wonder if this is the phase separation some worry about? He said the fuel was fine and is reblending it with other loads and selling it back to them. I can get more info if anyone cares.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | July 5, 2011 1:08 PM    Report this comment

This summarizes what some have been trying to say here: avweb*com/news/avmail/AVmail_LettersToTheEditor_204882-1*html

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | July 5, 2011 1:13 PM    Report this comment

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