The Royal Air Force has set a new record as it has completed its first-ever aircraft flight powered entirely by synthetic fuel. On November 2 in the skies over Cotswold Airport in the UK, Group Captain Peter Hackett piloted an Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft fueled by a synthetic UL91 fuel made by British energy company Zero Petroleum from water and carbon dioxide.
The use of synthetic fuels for aircraft like this is not a unique idea. Normally, a mixture of synthetic and fossil fuels with under 50 percent synthetics is produced so the use of fossil fuels is reduced in military operations. This makes the military less dependent on supply lines and decreases carbon emissions. Still, the goal is not met.
Therefore, the RAF and Zero Petroleum are actively finding ways to produce entirely synthetic fuels that can be used to power high-performance aircraft under normal operational conditions. This will make these aircraft less dependent on raw materials and reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent.
The trial comprised Ikarus being fielded with Zero Petroleum’s ZERO SynAvGas, which is a synthetic UL91 fuel produced from water and carbon dioxide, which are broken down and then subjected to the Fischer-Tropsch process. This process encompasses multiple reactions that convert hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon into methane. From methane, further complex molecules are made like polyethylene, ethanol, ethylene, methane, polypropylene, and in turn jet fuel.
Before the preliminary demo flight, the new fuel was tested by the CFS Aero aircraft overhaul and repair facility, which showed that using this could increase the life of the engine as it was cooler than the conventional fuel.
“This unique project with the Royal Air Force demonstrates the validity of our synthetic fuel and the potential it has to eliminate fossil CO2 emissions from a number of difficult but critical sectors, including transport which currently accounts for 23 percent of the global total,” says Zero Petroleum’s CEO, Paddy Lowe. “We are particularly proud of the fact that our high-grade aviation gasoline ZERO SynAvGas was developed in just five months and ran successfully in the aircraft as a whole-blend without any modification whatsoever to the aircraft or the engine. The engine manufacturer Rotax’s measurements and the test pilot’s observations showed no difference in power or general performance compared to standard fossil fuel.”