Alternate Fuels: Give Us Your Views

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Last week's reports on Continental's new initiatives to cope with the pending demise of 100LL drew a number of comments and queries, especially the diesel project.

As I continue to cover this story, I am becoming aware of an interesting divide. In the industry, some seem to think that the timeline here is long—like about 10 years. So there's a certain don't-worry-be-happy attitude toward the whole thing. Don't go too fast here. The assumption is because things have always moved slowly, they always will. There's an alluring truth to this.

The second camp thinks we're already late in dealing with this threat because it's going to take several years just to get practical and economic solutions in place so that buyers—that's you—can decide what they wish to do. From my visit to Continental last week and projecting a little on that segment of the industry that makes and sells airplanes, I'd put the manufacturers in that opinion block.

One compelling argument for dumping 100LL before any imposed deadline is this: the overhang effect. Are potential buyers nervous enough about the timeline to take a wait-and-see attitude? And is there enough uncertainty to either depress sales or to cause current owners to simply exit GA entirely because they're sick of thinking about it and dealing with it?

In the aviation press, we try to sort through this. And frankly, given that we've been writing sky-is-falling stories about avgas for more than two decades, we do a remarkably crappy job at it. There are too many competing interests and too much glad handing to hope to get a fair picture of what's about to happen.

So, it's time to ask readers to offer their own views. In Monday's edition, we published a survey on alternative fuels and on Continental's diesel initiative. I'd like to encourage readers of this blog to complete the survey and let us know what your views on the topic are.

Find the survey at this link.

Comments (81)

I think the insistence of a one-fuel, drop in replacement is the whole problem here. Let's use Sweden and Hjelmco as a model. If you want 100LL, (or Swift, or GAMI) great! But you'll pay more at the pump. For the low compression guys, or the FADEC crowd, let them pay a little less for 94UL (or maybe even make 82UL - the spec and approval process is already here.) Furthermore, mandate that new aircraft be compatible with 94UL. There would be some airports that go strictly 94UL (likely your grass strips and small municipal airports) and some that only stocked 100LL (likely the bigger airports where the twins go) This would be almost identical to the phase-out of leaded autogas - by the time it was banned the demand for it was nearly gone anyway.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 18, 2010 1:40 PM    Report this comment

Additionally, Shell Aviation lists 82UL as one of it's products. I'd be interested to know if anyone has tried ordering it - would make a nice option for mogas users.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 18, 2010 2:01 PM    Report this comment

Here's one possibility to ease the transition to the no-lead-at-all era: Operators of aircraft that must have 100LL, might be able to operate with 94UL unless high power is needed, like during takeoff. If that is the case, perhaps the owner/operator could arrange for installation of a fuel system that would operate the engine on 100LL only during that time, then switch to 94UL. Assuming that even the least amount of lead is not in the best interest of the environment, the federal government could impose a special environmental tax on 100LL to incentivize piston aircraft owners and operators to use unleaded avgas as much as possible.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 18, 2010 2:30 PM    Report this comment

Alex, I think your first option would be nearly impossible to install and certify - another tank would likely be needed. Your other option might work, but I'd rather see a tax credit towards installation of fuel tanks and purchase price of 94UL fuel as opposed to another tax on 100LL

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 18, 2010 5:48 PM    Report this comment

My advice is to streamline the approval process for swiftfuel and G100UL + blanket approval for any 100LL engine/plane config, including a GW increase for the extra weight of fuel/gal. Also, credit or subsidy for the distribution channel - maybe $400 M fund for conversion costs, switch to pipeline distribution, etc. Then blanket approval for converting tanks from 100LL to alternative without have to address lead decontamination, etc. This would make it an attractive, drop in replacement for existing 100LL distribution.

Posted by: ERIC PANNING | May 18, 2010 7:01 PM    Report this comment

"streamline swift fuel and G100UL" Hey, I'm with you, provided the stuff works and is priced competitively.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 18, 2010 7:59 PM    Report this comment

Lobby to stop the phasing out of 100ll. No affordable viable alternative exists. This fact has not changed for 20 years. Additionally the risks of avgas lead related health issues are minimal at worst. If a better option exists it will emerge on it's own. Regulation in this case is not necessary and is being pushed by a small special interest group.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 19, 2010 12:06 AM    Report this comment

I've just returned from a trip to northern Europe including southern Sweden where I visited a number of major G.A. airfields. Hjelmco 91/96UL and their 100LL is everywhere in Sweden and has been for nearly a decade. Their 91/96UL sells for $5.06/g and the their 100LL for $5.14/g (less taxes). Both Hjelmco tanks sit in drop-in pans and can be easily delivered and hooked up. The 100LL is about 1/3rd the size of 91/96UL since 100LL is in less demand. 91/96UL is ASTM compliant so could be sold in the U.S. now. Lars Hjelmberg of Hjelmco told me he is looking for a business partner to introduce his fuel to the U.S. - they are too small to do it on their own. Mogas is available also on most European airfields, especially in Germany, but they are not using ethanol in their fuels, lucky folks. Why are we reinventing the wheel in the U.S. if Hjelmco has a proven solution today? Why aren't the aviation alphabet groups pressuring Congress to exclude Premium mogas from ethanol mandates to preserve a fuel for G.A. and all the new LSA aircraft that run best on mogas?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 19, 2010 8:17 AM    Report this comment

100 octane has nothing to do with lead; lead is just one way of achieving the required octane. Lead is not good for engines; years of propaganda to the contrary.

GAMI knows what engines need what octane; engage the company to provide that information to the aviation community. Refiners can produce a suitable fuel once the requirements are clear; streamline the approval process; I would bet that the refiners could do it very quickly if they saw a commercial reason. There is a starting point with the GAMI 100, or the European 96UL. In Canada, Shell 91 octane MOGAS has no alcohol in it; guaranteed, and the majority of Gen AV engines can use it already.

To permit current engines to use new fuels, someone also needs to step up and provide a certified retrofit electronic engine management system that is self powered, and bolts on to current engines for less than $5000. Fuel injectors in the primer ports; self powered engine management/ignition in the magneto drives. The components exist, and the engineering is out there. The market for existing engines is large and easy to tap; who will step up?

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 19, 2010 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Good point Brian - there are market opportunities here for those willing to make the investment. One comment though about Canada - ethanol is now seeping into the country too. Ethanol-free gasoline used to be available in Quebec and was trucked down to the only FBO in central Maine that offered it. But the government of Quebec is now pushing ethanol blending, and the supply for Maine is disappearing. As a major grain producer, one would expect Canada to follow the same maligned pursuit of ethanol mandates as we now have in the U.S. I hope for Canadians (and for those of us in the U.S. who can get their ethanol-free fuel) that sanity will prevail and safe Autogas will remain available north of the border.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 19, 2010 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Unfortunately, sanity won't prevail, politics and money will. There is currently about a billion gallons of surplus ethanol production lying fallow. Watch for a push from Congress for E85--15 percent ethanol.

It just a ruinous, stupid policy. If sufficient capitol were available--it probably isn't--one could almost see a return to a two-fuel supply chain using the trucked in tank-on-a-tray approach. Doubt it will happen, though.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 19, 2010 10:24 AM    Report this comment

Paul you are dead on. This is what I and my co-authors at the GAFUELS blog on GAnews have been saying for over a year but most alphabet groups and FBOs have ignored. Let's hope that our boating friends will help up elevate the issue to Congress and stop the ethanol production mandates or at least exclude premium gas. This might be possible; stopping the FOE effort to kill 100LL and the EPA's drive to permit E15 will be harder. Thousands of dead cars on the side of the road should E15 be sold will likely also get someone's attention.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 19, 2010 11:26 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps the silver lining on the ethanol in pump gas is that it will cause FBO's to look in supplying ethanol-free unleaded at their airport. As long as folks were able to go to the corner gas station and get fuel for their plane, no one knew what market was there - and the FBO couldn't make a profit on it anyhow since they couldn't compete with the retail gas station. I spoke with the manager of a local airport the other day, he is looking to install a 500 gallon tank with ethanol-free mogas - if he can find it. He hopes to attract the light sport guys that have real problems with 100LL.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 19, 2010 11:39 AM    Report this comment

The GAMI G100UL appears to be an excellent 100LL replacement from all the information I have read. SwiftFuel has been around for a while and seems to have stalled in its effort to replace 100LL. The industry and FAA are both dragging their feet on approving a replacement if both Swiftfuel and G100UL are viable alternatives today. How many YEARS of testing does it take to come to some conclusion? Perhaps the problem is that SwiftFuel and GAMI are not telling us the downside of their product that is preventing approval. Diesels are a good alternative for new OEM installation as an alternative to gas, however the $100K conversion costs that are frequently mentioned are not practical for older aircraft on a relative value scale (cost of AVGAS per gallon vs. JP, + SFC costs). The engine upgrade costs, fuel costs, and availability need to be looked at from a relative impact standpoint, i.e., given the small number of planes (WRT automobiles for example), how much are they really contributing to any real environmental problems? Global warming is a hoax, so I am not concerned about CO2. The real question is an economic one, what is the cost of flying price point that will reverse the trend of a decline in general aviation?

Posted by: John Salak | May 19, 2010 11:40 AM    Report this comment

Paul, one thing that AvWeb and other publications could do to move this debate forward is to help us understand what the fuel requirements are for the fleet that now uses 100LL.

In particular: what are the segments of the fleet that now uses 100LL? What proportion have engines that could use existing fuels like premium mogas today? What proportion have engines that really require the 100LL?

And also: what proportion of the *fuel* is used by each segment?

I understand, from reading between the lines of some articles and forum posts, that a fairly small fraction of the fleet absolutely needs 100 octane fuel, premium mogas won't do, but they also fly a lot, and so use a big proportion of the existing 100LL. Their requirements are different from those of the Cessna 172 which I fly for recreation.

Maybe Marcellette Cloche's MBA thesis will help me understand this picture. But I don't recall an aviation publication laying it all out in recent years. If it's there and I missed it, maybe it's worth sharing a link to the article.

Posted by: James DeLaHunt | May 19, 2010 12:29 PM    Report this comment

IMO, highest priority should be given to the development of biomass-based fuels.
First, using fuel produced in the US means that we won't be using fuel from politically-unstable and unfriendly places like the Middle East, Venezuela, etc.
Second, such fuels would provide a tremendous PR coup for general aviation. How great would it be for AOPA, GAMA, EAA, etc. to stand up in front of Congress and the general public and say, "WE are the first transportation sector to have transitioned to renewable carbon-neutral fuels!"? Whether or not GA actually makes a dent in lead or CO2 levels doesn't matter; in politics and PR, *appearances* matter, and going fully-renewable is a full-body makeover.

Third, if the fuel is a drop-in 100LL replacement, it won't require absurd amounts of money to modify existing airplanes. Though, it's pathetic that most of us are still flying around with 1930's technology up front.

On the subject of bolt-in modifications or replacement engines, the biggest problem I see is in the area of certification. Now, I regularly fly a homebuilt, so such costs aren't as much of a concern to me, but certified replacement engines are going to have to be a heck of a lot cheaper than $100,000 if we expect anyone to buy them. That pricing level is simply unsustainable. Unless manufacturers can somehow cut back on their cert costs and figure out how to "dual-market" these new engines for other uses, they don't stand a chance.

Posted by: Bob Martin | May 19, 2010 12:46 PM    Report this comment

To James DeLaHunt: Best estimates put the percentage of the U.S. piston engine fleet needing 100LL today at 20%. However these aircraft likely consume more than 20% of the 100LL as the other aircraft burn fewer gallons per hour and per year, and many have (in the past) been able to burn Mogas, until ethanol was added that is. With the continued move of corporate/charter aircraft to jets and turboprops, the percentage needing 100LL will dwindle. The reality is however that there is no reliable alternative for the other 80% with the widespread use today of ethanol in gasoline, eliminating Mogas as the only legal, viable, available and very affordable alternative.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 19, 2010 12:48 PM    Report this comment

The usual rule of thumb we've used is that aircraft requiring 100 octane constitute 30 percent of the fleet, but they burn 70 percent of the fuel. Ergo...they fly more and burn more when they do.

Before you get too excited about biomass fuels, I might recommend some reading: Power Hungry by Robert Bryce. It blows a large hole in the bio-fuel industry just by comparing the simple economics of bio versus petro. The sheer scales involved are daunting. The book isn't political or ideological, but simply factual.

Energy independence is an absolute farce.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 19, 2010 1:31 PM    Report this comment

Long Live LOW LEAD!!! Long Live LOW LEAD!!! Save GA!!! Fight off this latest attack on the fuel that powers our passion.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 19, 2010 2:13 PM    Report this comment

The Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL carries aircraft piston engine manufacturers approvals covering > 90 % of the entire world piston powered aircraft fleet. (inclusive ultralights, LSA:s, radials etc)
In Sweden we have flown on this unleaded AVGAS meeting ASTM D910 grade 91/98 (the US standard but the fuel is without lead) for 19 years without interuption.
The fuel is available at about 90 + airports in Sweden.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 19, 2010 4:37 PM    Report this comment

Not only is 100LL bad for the environment (although I think the quantities of it released are negligilbe) It's bad for engines too. Many of you will remember that fouling with 100LL was so bad on the Lycoming 235 that Champion had to develop a special plug for it. I like the idea of being able to say that we are powered by biofuel, but I doubt the market can support a $10 per gallon drop-in replacement. I'd be interested to know what it actually would take to run, say, an IO-540 on 96UL fuel. Seems to me that if a new Slick mag is about $1000, someone should be able to come out with an electronic ignition for $2500 or so per side. Heck, you can buy little $30 boxes for lawn mowers to convert them to electronic ignition - this can't be so hard to do in our overgrown Briggs & Strattons!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 19, 2010 5:48 PM    Report this comment

The solution is simple do nothing, 100LL is working fine and has been for decades. The Speckle-Breasted Canyon Weenie hawk is doing just fine, maybe we should deport all the left-wing nanny state fools to Mexico. Just a thought...

Posted by: daniel schultz | May 19, 2010 6:33 PM    Report this comment

Someone will provide 100ll even of the majors drop it. It's easy to produce and profitable. How do you think the other proposed fuels will be produced and distributed?the only major negative to 100 ll special handling requirements is that it can't utilize pipeline transport. The same will apply to any of the new cottage fuels. It will not be practical to mix a high spec low volume fuel in the line with other products. The petro and biofuels that are highly refined to produce an octane spec that is almost as good as 100ll will come with less tolerance to dilution with off spec fuel and shortened shelf life.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 19, 2010 8:51 PM    Report this comment

Bad for engines? The low compression crowd has plenty of options to avoid lead fouling. Among these; auto fuel STC, alcor TCP additive, mindful leaning procedures.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 19, 2010 9:00 PM    Report this comment

The low compression crowd does NOT have plenty of options. Ethanol is making more than 60,000 STCs worthless. By the end of 2013 all of the unleaded auto gasoline produced in the U.S. will be at least E10 to keep up with the unintended consequences of the federal RFS mandate in EISA 2007. Alcor TCP is a hazardous material for shipping purposes and goes in and out of production. The bottle says NOT to carry it in your airplane. It is made by the same company that makes TEL which has just lost a number of lawsuits by the federal government for its illegal business practices. Mindful leaning procedures do not work for a number of engines, especially old Continental engines. It didn't do diddly squat for my O-300-D which regularly stuck an exhaust valve after about 40 hrs. on 100 LL which is exactly why the mogas STCs were created.

Posted by: Dean Billing | May 19, 2010 11:16 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the book recommendation Paul. Always interested in what you're reading - maybe you should blog your reading list every couple of months?

And 'energy independence' - don't get me started. So long as you are supplying less than (say) 90% of fuel requirements within the US, there is no such thing as 'energy independence'. It's impossible - it's just a patriotic-sounding political talking point. Once again, as with the whole ethanol scam, our politicians are doing a feeble job - pandering for votes. Sorry, off-topic, I know.

I don't think I've seen an explanation of why the Hjelmco fuel wouldn't be a suitable, easily substituted alternative? It seems like a typical US navel-gazing failuure to look at what has been done overseas.

Posted by: Ceri Reid | May 20, 2010 8:12 AM    Report this comment

While I suspect the EPA's anti-lead campaign is little more than a witch hunt, I think the big advantage to eliminating TEL in avgas is economic. The special handling requirements of 100LL only serve to increase costs which we pay at the pump. Eliminating the lead should allow avgas to be run thru pipelines and reduce the cost of transport and storage which should lower the retail price. I think GAMI is onto something with their G100UL and Hjelmco's 91/96 also sounds like something we need to take a good look at. I like the idea of taking the ethanol out of super unleaded and making it available as an aviation fuel, but that means involving legislators which is usually the fastest way to gum up the works.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | May 20, 2010 8:59 AM    Report this comment


The Hjemco fuel is a red herring. Its essentially a premium unleaded fuel with octane levels that are 10-15 Motor Octane points lower than 100LL, that is already available here in the US. Those engines that need 100LL cannot operate safely on Hjemco fuel or 94UL. The engines that need 100LL constitute the majority of all demand for aviation gasoline. The reason Hjemco fuel is available overseas is that aviation gasoline prices are so incredibly high. That allows the cost of additional distribution, pumps, maintenance, trucks, etc. to be built into the price easier. Not that it cost less to do so in Europe, its just that the fewer users are willing to pay the additional fees.

Which is what will happen in the US as prices to fly rise. There will simply be less and less aviation customers.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 20, 2010 9:15 AM    Report this comment

Brad does not know what he is talking about.
The Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL is a D910 ( US AVGAS standard) AVGAS but without lead. It is not a premium unleaded car gasoline fuel.
It is listed for example in Lycoming SI 1070 since 1995 as an approved AVGAS.
The Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL is cheaper than AVGAS 100 LL -- because the Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL is the base fuel for making the Hjelmco AVGAS 100 LL. However based on the components in the Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL when adding maximum approved lead content as per the ASTM D910 standard for 100 LL that Hjelmco AVGAS 100 LL fuel becomes an AVGAS 115/145 fuel. Because lead is expensive and is an add on to Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL and the Hjelmco AVGAS 100 LL competes with AVGAS 100 LL from other producers with less qualities -- the Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL has always been sold (> 19 years) at a lower price than 100 LL at the pump.
Those interested jump into

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 20, 2010 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Brad - by the way.
I am the one who made the Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL in 1989.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 20, 2010 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Correct me if I am wrong, but D910 does not have a lead spec, it has an octane spec.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 20, 2010 9:30 AM    Report this comment

D910 has a maximum of lead for 100 LL of 2 ml/US gallon.
Lead is a mandatory additive, however there is no minimum level of lead stipulated.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 20, 2010 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Paul: ASTM D910 DOES absolutely have a requirement for TEL. That is why the Department of Defense had to get a new ASTM spec for unleaded gasoline for their drones: ASTM D7547, and that is why 94UL will have a new ASTM spec.

Posted by: Dean Billing | May 20, 2010 9:57 AM    Report this comment

Lars - thank-you for your input on this discussion. Here's what I don't get about the 100LL issue - lots of pilots are screaming that their engines won't run on 96UL. Even TCM thought a timing tweak would take care of the high-compression aircraft needs - albeit at reduced output. I've heard concerns about certification due to lower horsepower, but this has already happened. Remember the AD that required o-200's to have the timing adjusted due to cylinder and connecting rod problems. I can't imagine a more underpowered aircraft than a Cessna 150! Surely a Bonanza or twin operator could sacrifice a little power to avoid a FADEC install, at least until overhaul time. I'd personally like to see the new fuel at a price at least comparable to today's 100LL - I doubt that will happen with either Swift, or GAMI, or even the Hjelmco 100UL fuels.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 20, 2010 10:14 AM    Report this comment

I guess my point is this: since no minimum is stated, that is the same as having no requirement.

Don't have 910 open in front of me, but I recall the octane requirement is a min, too. Lead is just the best way of getting it, up to the stated max.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 20, 2010 10:21 AM    Report this comment

I just don't get it. If GAMI can prove their fuel works as a drop-in replacement with no side effects, (i.e.-lower power like 94UL), then why in the heck aren't we all, including the FAA, celebrating that fact? Hello? WTF?

Posted by: JOHN EWALD | May 20, 2010 11:40 AM    Report this comment

Hello? WTF?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 20, 2010 12:03 PM    Report this comment

I know it's dangerous to speculate, but if I understand you Lars, you think an ETBE based 100 octane fuel could be sold at a price point very close to that of 100LL today?

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 20, 2010 1:10 PM    Report this comment


What are the estimated costs for GAMI's fuel.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 20, 2010 1:40 PM    Report this comment

Josh - yes I do. It is a preffered car gasoline component in Europe and as such it is cheap because it is produced by many (=competition) and available almost everywhere in Europe (=low transportation costs). It is produced at a refinery. It has everything the industry and politicians want, bioorigin (approx 40 %)high octane numbers, does not mix with water, easy to produce.However there is no ETBE production in the US any more I think, but all your old equipment for MTBE, already written down to zero can easily at low cost be converted to make ETBE and there you are.
The US abandoned the ethers because of groundwater problems with leaking not maintained car gasoline storage tanks. In Europe we have and had stricter rules for fuel tanks and never got these problems as you did. However from time to time ethers turn up again in the US when there is an acute shortage of fuel components for car gasoline. I would assume fuel tanks at airports are maintained better than car gasoline station tanks, so I don,t see a technical problem. The problem lies somewhere else.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 20, 2010 1:45 PM    Report this comment

Funny how this keeps popping up and the responses are always the same - all over the map. From the head in the sand status quo guys to the bio-fuel proponents. I think part of the problem with getting anything accomplished on this issue is the lack of consensus on a path forward.

I like Brian Hope's suggestion of using currently available technology to allow current engines to operate on these newer fuels. But hold out little hope that it will actually happen. Too much resistance from the conservative pilot community and too many certification issues. I'm glad I operate in the Experimental realm where innovation is actually approved of.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 20, 2010 2:28 PM    Report this comment

ETBE may be a non-starter in the U.S. While the EPA hasn't regulated it away, refiners are strongly discouraged. I'd never say never, however.

As for G-100UL costs--an unknown at this point. Its largest component is avgas, plus petroleum-derived additives. Estimates are within a buck of avgas.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 20, 2010 3:03 PM    Report this comment

Paul - why should the EPA regulate ETBE away? and why are refiners strongly discouraged and who is discouraging them? At the same time oil drilling in the deep sea is going on as we all are aware of, and drilling of gas below US water reservoirs with great potential damage to US drinking water reserves in a really large scale.
I don,t really catch the ETBE environmental risks compared to the other environmental risks already accepted in
the industry.

If the US want all environmental risks eliminated well then the US is grounded.

But if Europe and the rest of the world can handle ETBE risks - why cannot the USA?
Why is ETBE so much more risky to handle in the US than elsewhere in the world?

Isn,t it all about politics? Yours in the USA and ours in the EU?
And who make the politics in this case......the people ?????? or someone else ??? If someone else then who (or which?)

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 20, 2010 3:44 PM    Report this comment

>>Paul - why should the EPA regulate ETBE away? and why are refiners strongly discouraged and who is discouraging them? At the same time oil drilling in the deep sea is going on as we all are aware of, and drilling of gas below US water reservoirs with great potential damage to US drinking water reserves in a really large scale.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 20, 2010 4:01 PM    Report this comment

This is at least the third time in the past year that this thread has run here on Avweb. Both you and I as well as many of the others commenting on this current thread have commented on the previous ones. In all instances there have been status quo advocates, biomass advocates, advocates of slightly lower octane unleaded fuels such as yourself, etc.. Thats what I mean when I say it keeps popping up and the responses are always the same. There is no consensus and appears to be little room for compromise between the factions.

I agree that Brian's comments have substance, that's why I said I liked his suggestion. But given the conservative nature of the pilot community I dont see them embracing a technology solution. And outside of the Experimental world I dont see what he is advocating happening in the $5K price range. Which is too bad.

In my Experimental I burn unleaded Mogas with Ethanol. My fuel system was designed and fabricated with Mogas in mind. My engine is completely electronic controlled. Electronics cost less than $1000. Mogas in SoCal currently running around $3/gal.

I get a lot of opinions on the engine and electronic controls. Some think its great but there is enough negative feedback over the dependence on electronics that I think it would be a hard sell.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 20, 2010 4:07 PM    Report this comment

On the subject of ETBE. 15 years ago MTBE was the solution to all the world's problems according to the politicians and oil companies who promoted it. Then they started finding it in ground water and the politicians who advocated it were crucified in the media.

ETBE sounds a lot like MTBE to both the layman and the politician. It'll never fly on the 6 o'clock news. I'm afraid thats the way things work here.

But then I understand its not all wonderful in the EU either. Half the voices I hear on the radio while flying these days have a European accent. I'm guessing they come to the US to fly for good reasons.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 20, 2010 4:17 PM    Report this comment

Paul -- you should have it much easier in the US. We in the EU are 27 nations all with own languages and a population about 65 % more than the US and we have no real goverment, but a commission.

Mike - perhaps I am repeating myself in my comments but it looks like there are always new members on these blogs and they also should hear the comments.

I am not saying it,s wonderful in the EU - we do have a lot of problems so this is not a comparision if the EU is better than the US or vice versa, its about why risks are evaluated so differently pending where you live. In a world of thruth these type of risks should be the same regardless of where you live- or?

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 20, 2010 4:34 PM    Report this comment

"there is enough negative feedback over the dependence on electronics that I think it would be a hard sell"

You know, I was thinking of exactly that when flying a LPV with my Garmin 430 WAAS box. If we can fly an approach, completely electronically, with no ground based navaids, I'd sure think we can come up with an electronic "mag" that can adjust timing. Sad part, a 430 is 12-15k installed, it's likely we'll see the same with engine controls when and if they happen. That being said, I'm not worrying about the price of the Garmin when I'm flying a low approach - same could be said about the engine controls.

As for lobbying - perhaps there would be some success to lobby Washington for an ethanol-ether based fuel.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 20, 2010 7:30 PM    Report this comment


I'm always surprised at how well cockpit glass has been accepted, including the concept of flying in the crud with complete reliance on electricity (no vacuum backups), and yet how negative the same people can be when it comes to electronic engine controls. I cant explain it, but I know from personal experience that it happens.

BTW, I read the paper Marcellette Cloche wrote (see link above). It captures this discussion very well. I'm sure that just like this discussion there will be a lot of opinion on the options she presents and on her recommendations. I dont agree with everything she says, but an interesting read.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 20, 2010 7:52 PM    Report this comment


I bought my aircraft about three years ago and have been upgrading several systems. I've come to the point where I was looking at GAMI injectors and an Engine Analyzer. However, I was interested in at least looking at Aerosance FADEC for my IO-360 before I committed to a path. I’m finding most companies that say they were going to present FADEC or electronic ignition systems really don’t promote the benefits of their systems and don’t have a reliable way to answer questions of consumers. In my case, I need to know information of approximate cost, where to have it installed, and some simple questions. There doesn’t seem to be any answers from anyone, including the company, other than the product exists out there.

I think it’s their fault. If there not going to promote their product, take forever to bring it to market for my engine, or answer questions. Why am I going to wait around to buy it? Once I decide to go down a path away from FADEC, I don’t plan to revisit it unless I’m forced to do so.

This goes the same for TCM if they are not going to show me they are committed to certifying my engine on UL94, Swift, or Gami fuel. Some times it seems as if aviation marketplace drags its heels on everything. The exception seems to be avionics and engine instruments. That's probably why it is better received in the marketplace.


Posted by: Karl DeJean | May 20, 2010 10:59 PM    Report this comment

If a typical STC is only 150 hours, and if there are lots out there saying they've got a fuel that can do the trick, why can't we find more great companies like EAA & Petersen to do a couple more tests for us all on all the formulas out there and apply for approval for the data from the FAA? Swifts got a great partnership started with Embry-Riddle and they've already got test fuel status from ASTM. But what we really need are the engine manufacturers to certify their new engines on more fuels so that airframe manufactures can turn around and do the same with the engines in their airframes. Especially new airframe manufacturers. If performance data truly portrays what's promised by alternate fuel formula holders, the FAA could approve the data and ASTM could finish all their specs in the meantime. Then happily we'll have demand for the oil companies. Let the best formula win. The date seems to be 2017 for the time being --- there's still enough time to get everything done properly and we can all carry about our business. Finally. Nearly 40 years later. And, all this could possibly result in a blanket approval. I just can't help being overbearingly positive all the time.

Posted by: Marcellette Cloche | May 21, 2010 3:44 PM    Report this comment

Comments regarding the possibility of a $5000 certified retrofit electronic engine control suggest it is not possible. The P-Mag exists at a current price of $2370 for two. That is the self powered electronic ignition. Additional software, plus four electronic fuel injectors, plumbing, wiring, and (possibly) two fuel pumps gives you a complete system. These additional components total less than $1000. There is no material reason that a complete system cannot be provided at the $5000 price point.

There would be an immediate improvement in power, economy and reliability.

There is an enormous market for such a system; far bigger than the market for replacement engines.

So far as octane requirements for big bore engines. a Piper Navajo Chieftain engine is one touted as requiring 100 Octane. Hjelmco demonstrated that this engine will run at full output on their 96UL under "worst case" conditions.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 24, 2010 2:25 PM    Report this comment

Hjelmco demonstrated that this engine will run at full output on their 96UL under "worst case" conditions.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 24, 2010 5:23 PM    Report this comment


If you were referring to my comment, what I said was that I didnt think it would be possible to get a system for certified applications out there for $5000. I'm not familiar with the P-Mag you referred to so googled it and found an installation guide. First sentence said "not approved for installation on certified aircraft". Is there a certified version?

I have no doubt that the technology exists to build a full electronic system for under $5K.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 24, 2010 5:50 PM    Report this comment


You may be right when it comes to TCM and Lyc not promoting these products well, I dont really know. Could be a result of corporate mentality. Could it be that neither company has had to really promote their hardware because for the most part they are the only game in town? I dont know.

But it doesnt take much web surfing to understand the advantages of a FADEC over the 1930's technology carb and magneto with fixed timing. Its pretty easy to see the advantages every time you drive a current car and compare it to a 50s vintage car. Yet most of the people I talk to about my airplane (not FADEC, but electronic controls), completely freak out about the reliance on electricity to keep the engine running, even if they understand the potential advantages.

I dont think its a marketing issue, but that is just my opinion. I think its more likely a matter of distrust of technology. For some reason the possibility of the engine quitting seems to create more fear than the possibility of the glass going blank in a cloud.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 24, 2010 6:16 PM    Report this comment

The posturing that is occurring right now about what direction the industry will go reminds me years ago; Bata or VHS VCR’s. If there is one best choice be it; FADEC, P-Mag, Swift, GAMI, TCM 94UL or Hjelmco’s 96UL, Diesel/Jet-A or?, it will be interesting whom the winner/s will be and will we, the aircraft owners, be included in the winner’s circle? To complicate it more, which direction will favor one aircraft owner over another? What about the current avgas aircraft, old or new 172’s, Cirrus, the war birds,(radial or V-12 inline), your plane? There are also the economics, the politics…WHEW!! The dynamics involved can be mind boggling. We want there to be an uncomplicated, fair answer for everyone and there isn’t one. What we do know now is that we have a fuel (100LL) that allows all of them to fly. My question is, will a new better idea keep them ALL flyin’ or do we just have to accept that we and our beloved aircraft have just joined the ranks of a disposable aircraft culture? Look out senior citizens, you could be next. :(

Posted by: GREGORY MORTON | May 24, 2010 7:49 PM    Report this comment

Greg, if free markets were allowed to reign free, there would be no shortage of fuels. Unlike the video disk (remember them?) and video tape wars, markets are not free to determine the winner and loser this time. Governments and their friends in various environmental, agricultural and industry groups are pulling the strings to favor one solution over another, or perhaps no decision, which will lead to the ultimate goal of some, the end to General Aviation as we know it. Worse yet, the rules change constantly. Perhaps the only "fuel" with some certainly in the future will be electricity, but we're a long, long way from using it for serious aerial transportation. Until then, the best solution would be for governments to get the heck out of the way and allow free markets to provide the best, most affordable solutions as they always do when left alone.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 24, 2010 8:11 PM    Report this comment

The P-Mag is being certified according to the manufacturer. Lycoming (and Continental) has a fully electronic engine, but they are expecting customers to buy a new engine, not retrofit the system. The market for retrofit systems is immediately many times larger than for a new engine.

The information about testing a Lycoming 541 on 96UL is on the Hjelmco website; the test were witnessed by AOPA.

Ford runs 10.5:1 compression engines on 87 octane gas. Granted, these are liquid cooled and very sophisticated. It is not reasonable that an 8.7:1 engine (Lycoming IO360) cannot be made to run on 96 octane fuel with an electronic control system.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 24, 2010 9:30 PM    Report this comment

I dont think its a marketing issue, but that is just my opinion. I think its more likely a matter of distrust of technology.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 5:11 AM    Report this comment

I heard about the Rotax follow-on two years ago from an OEM. Introduction was "imminent." But nothing yet.

As for new technology, it has to have perceived benefit. Take the current best aircraft engine, the IO-550 from Continental. It has great power density (under 1.5 pounds), will run as economical as .39 BSFC and has a decent supply chain. The hot new Rotax V6s ran at .44, were a little heavier and were vastly more complex. Oh, and Rotax didn't have a good rep for supply chain and support in North America.

You can see the problem. First, a competitive engine needs to be as least as good, then worry about better. The fuel crisis may change this equation, but it hasn't yet.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 8:30 AM    Report this comment

I heard about the Rotax follow-on two years ago from an OEM. Introduction was "imminent." But nothing yet.

As for new technology, it has to have perceived benefit. Take the current best aircraft engine, the IO-550 from Continental. It has great power density (under 1.5 pounds), will run as economical as .39 BSFC and has a decent supply chain. The hot new Rotax V6s ran at .44, were a little heavier and were vastly more complex. Oh, and Rotax didn't have a good rep for supply chain and support in North America.

You can see the problem. First, a competitive engine needs to be as least as good, then worry about better. The fuel crisis may change this equation, but it hasn't yet.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 8:30 AM    Report this comment

What a coincidence. I've been chatting with Richard Shulz from Adept Airmotive in South Africa (whose 120deg V6 engine design was used by Bombardier) He told me their 320hp V6 burns 37LPH which converts to 9.7gph based on dyno FF tests. They're going to be flight testing the engine on a Ravin (composite Commanche) in the next few weeks for validation. The cooling system is very low drag and in the event of a loss of coolant the engine can still be run at 60% on oil cooling alone. It's a multi-fuel capable FADEC eqipped engine weighing 321lb. It sounds very promising, but like Paul said they have to get past the distrust issue. Maybe the EPA getting serious about ending MTBE will get more folks to look at new engine tech.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | May 25, 2010 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Something not quite right on those numbers, Wil. That's a BSFC of .18. That's getting outside the laws of thermodynamics. Musta been a percentage of 320 HP. Even at 60 percent power, it would be .3.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 9:33 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I can only assume that 37LPH figure was at a cruise power setting. Richard compared their 320T to the 260hp Lycoming's 55LPH and the 300hp Lyc's 70LPH. At any rate they'll have real flight test data in the next few weeks. One of the very attractive elements is the engine's ability to run 100LL and E85 mogas.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | May 25, 2010 9:47 AM    Report this comment

Above, I calculated cruise BSFC of .3. Heretofore, the best avgas engine ever done appears to be the Continental Voyager with watercooling, HTTC chambers and 11.3 CR. It did .345, according to an SAE paper.

The aerodiesels are running .33 to .36. FWIW, the most efficient engines on the planet--large marine diesels--run at .27. Seems hard to believe a gasoline engine could get to .3, but I'm willing to be convinced.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Its going to be about the distribution netrwork, not which technology is "best". I dont buy that the solution is going to come from GAMI, Swift or anyone else outside BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil or Shell. Whatever it is has to be available at every airport accross the continent. The market is too small and regulatory hurdles to great for a limited availability product.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | May 25, 2010 11:07 AM    Report this comment

Paul, how are you calculating BSFC? (I'm clueless) I understand the Adept's efficiency comes from the integral reduction drive, allowing the engine to run at its most efficient rpm while slowing down the prop. At any rate, I'm as big a skeptic as anybody and am curious to see the hard data from their flight testing. It does sound promising but it'd be a struggle to establish a US network. Best bet would be getting a STC for a Piper/Cessna retrofit then going after an OEM application.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | May 25, 2010 12:04 PM    Report this comment

BSFC is simply pounds of fuel per horsepower hour. So if you had a 100-HP engine running 10 GPH, its BSFC is .6. (That's 10 X 6 pounds/100 HP=/.6)

In the example given, a 320-HP engine running at a cruise setting of 60 percent would be 192 HP on 9.7 GPH for a BSFC of .3. Given that most GA engines run in the low to mid 4s, although the best ones can do high 3s, that is eye opening efficiency. It's transformational.

You do get some volumetric efficiency from the higher RPM, but you also lose due to higher friction from higher piston speeds and gear box takes its pound of flesh, too. No black magic here. Laws of physics still apply.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 12:59 PM    Report this comment

Might be good to compare BSFC/weight of the engine. This is the big weakness of diesels. Not important for a ship or truck or car, but critical for an airplane.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 25, 2010 1:38 PM    Report this comment

"Hjelmco demonstrated that this engine will run at full output on their 96UL under "worst case" conditions.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 25, 2010 3:00 PM    Report this comment

I know about the prism test. I am talking about a straight J2BD. I suspect it will explode on 96UL.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 3:06 PM    Report this comment

Have compared the two. There's an interesting real-world lab test going on now: The DA42 has both diesel and gas options.
The IO-360 is 2.4 pounds/HP at BSFC of .45. The Austro diesel is 3.16 pounds/HP at .33. The Austro-engine airplane has 2970 empty weight versus 2837 for the gas. But the diesel airplane carries more because it has a higher gross. It cruises about the same, has twice the range but costs 22 percent more.

Very similar comparison between the SAM 182 and the Continental 182.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 3:15 PM    Report this comment

I dont know that excessive weight is necessarily a given for all diesels. Certainly is the case for the Thielert and Austro. But in the April issue of Kitplanes there was an article about a WAM diesel in an RV-9A and weight and power output were said to be comparable to an O-235. Unfortunate that the test flying they did for the article didnt compare the WAM powered RV to an O-235 powered RV-9A to render a meaningful comparison.

Overall the article was very positive about the WAM engine which is unusual because Van's is historically very critical of alternative engine installations.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 25, 2010 3:17 PM    Report this comment

Long time ago when the Soviet Union collapsed I flew my Navajo Chieftain in the Eastern block countries. The only fuel available there was the Russian 95/130.
Lycoming and Piper made special arrangements to have us to operate on the Russian AVGAS with lower octane.
This was 20 years ago but if I remember it correctly we only had to reduce manifold pressure by 2 inches from max and be careful about air inlet temperature.
So these engines will not ALWAYS explode on a 96 fuel even if there is no Prism sysem. Actually I think Lycoming made a Bullentin about this.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | May 25, 2010 3:46 PM    Report this comment

Diesels - a year or so ago a Jet-A maker (can't remember which one) caused a stir by warning against the use of Jet-A in an aviation diesel engine, citing components in jet fuel intended for high-altitude, low temperature operation in a turbine, not a compression-ignition engine motoring around at low altitude. I haven't heard much about that since. Does anyone have additional info on this?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 25, 2010 6:43 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Greg, I remember this article, I always enjoy reading Visser. While in Europe last month I observed a Cessna giving rides over the German island of Ruegen and from the sound it had to have been a diesel-powered one. One airfield I frequently visit in Germany now has an auto diesel fuel pump next to Mogas, 100LL and Jet-A. Our FBOs in the U.S. can't seem to get beyond 100LL and Jet-A. Given tough enviro laws in Europe, their fuel costs and relatively low GA activity, I am confused why our FBOs here are unwilling or unable to install additional pumps for E0 Mogas, or whatever transition UL fuel will eventually be adopted alongside 100LL.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 25, 2010 8:12 PM    Report this comment

Exxon was the company that complained about airplanes using Jet-A. The core of the complaint was that diesel has a cetane spec and Jet-A doesn't. They made it go away with hold harmless letters.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2010 8:29 PM    Report this comment

I suspect that, although I will have the chance to fly diesel aircraft from rental companies, I will never have one replace the engines on my aircraft. I think as a private owner on an older aircraft, it would require more than just an engine replacement. I can see a new electrical systems, FADEC, or electronic ignition in my aircraft.

Just to comment on a question earlier, I think their can be a fear of new unproven technology but also user can find no benefit from it. For example, something that makes me nervous about FADEC is there is no backup power source other than a battery and once it's done, the engines are done. I once had my alternators fail and the battery drained at night over the Rockies and was forced to fly with only a handheld GPS for about 30 minutes while troubleshooting. I was thankful that I had a magneto system to keep the engines running. I didn't have any indication my electrical system was shutting down until I was in the dark. When I think of any electronic ignition and battery backup, this incident comes to mind. I do like the P-Mag solution where each of their electronic ignitions has a small alternator that turns as long as the engine turns. I like new technology as long as it keeps some of the old functions I consider critical.

Posted by: Karl DeJean | May 25, 2010 11:41 PM    Report this comment

I think the benefit is based upon the amount of money you are spending for the item. Some items like FADEC have everything attached to them including sensors, displays, harnesses, electronic ignition systems as a kit. That kit could easily cost 10K, which someone looks at and decided their no benefit to spending that type of money. However, they could also go out and spend money on Engine Analyzers, fuel injectors, fuel flow indicators, etc which could also approach 10K. It is easier to spend in smaller sums of money and justify the benefits, even if you are trying to achieve the same goal.

Also, I e-mailed the people who make the P-Mag and asked when their 6 cylinder EI will be certified and will we be able to program a timing curve to deal with a switch to lower octane fuel. They are still going through the certification process, which might take awhile, but they plan to incorporate the ability to program timing curves for different fuels, engines, power setting, etc. Some curves can be programmed and chosen from the instrument panel (i.e.: a timing setting for take off and choose another for cruise).

Well, that’s my 2 cents for tonight…


Posted by: Karl DeJean | May 25, 2010 11:42 PM    Report this comment


Thanks for the input. Your response is typical of what I hear from many who look at my engine installation. What happens when the alternator fails and the batteries die? I can understand that concern. The thing I dont get is that many of these same people who make those comments have an instrument panel full of electrically powered glass and when asked, have no concerns about flying hard IFR without a backup. Thats the one the puzzles me. And I see it pretty frequently.

Bang for the buck is a valid issue with FADEC. I'll take your word for it that a kit FADEC could cost $10K, but there is no technological reason for that as far as I can tell. The required sensors and algorithms are very well understood and quite cheap after 20 years of use in the auto industry. It should be cheaper purely from a manufacturing standpoint to build an electronic ignition than it is to build a mag. So presumably the high cost is a business decision made by the manufacturer to try to recoup development/certification cost as soon as possible.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 26, 2010 11:53 AM    Report this comment

but there is no technological reason for that as far as I can tell.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 26, 2010 12:45 PM    Report this comment

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