One Thursday afternoon in September 2005, Swift Enterprises founder John Rusek was flying home from a business meeting when he turned to his pilot, Jon Zuilkowski, and asked if he was ready to expand his role in the company. Without hesitation, Zuilkowski said he wanted to search for an alternative to avgas.
“One of his professors at Purdue University had told him that leaded avgas was going away and he wanted to get ahead of the problem to make sure his kids could fly and fly affordably,” recalled PJ Catania, a Swift Fuels aerospace engineer, following a forum on the new fuel at this summer’s AirVenture.
Just 72 hours after that conversation, Zuilkowski and other Swift Fuels employees were in the lab Monday morning, starting the research that would ultimately lead to Swift Fuels 100SF, a direct replacement for 100LL.
The small company, based at Purdue Research Park near the Indiana university, recruited former oil company researchers, biomass production engineers, and other professionals to help develop the fuel. About 1/3 of the 16-member staff are pilots and/or aircraft owners.
The sustainable fuel is not petroleum-based, but rather can be made from any “biomass,” such as corn, sugar beets, sorghum — whichever happens to be cheapest, Catania said.
The process to make the fuel is similar to that used to make ethanol, but the final product has no alcohol or ethanol in it.
The proprietary process converts the biomass to a fuel with just two components. The fuel, which has a Motor Octane Rating of 104.9, was submitted last month to ASTM for approval. Along with that submission were reports from a variety of companies that have been involved in testing the fuel, including Lycoming, Teledyne Continental Motors, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Avfuel and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Embry-Riddle has been testing the fuel in a Seminole for the past year. Testing started with five hours of ground runs — hot starts, cold starts, etc. — and when no major problems occurred, advanced to taxiing and run-ups, reported Mikhael Ponso, an experimental test pilot at ERAU’s research center. Eventually the plane was taken up and put through extensive in-flight testing. “After 25 hours, we flew it to Sun ‘n Fun, where we flew in the showcase,” he said. “And we flew it here.”
Ponso reported that on the way to Oshkosh, he stopped to refuel, putting “a little” 100LL in the right tank, while the Swift Fuel was in the left tank. “I noticed the fuel flow was 10%-15% better on the Swift Fuel.”
Swift Fuel can be mixed with 100LL in any combination and still remain in spec, according to officials. Once approved, the fuel will be given a distinct color to differentiate it from JetA and 100LL. The fuel also has a distinct smell — one man at an Oshkosh forum compared it to dirty socks — but the smell is lighter than either dirty socks or petroleum-based fuels.
Swift officials hope to get approval for the fuel in the next year to year and a half. The company is in the process of striking a deal with a producer who can pump out 50,000 gallons a day. “At this facility, there exists the capacity to cover the entire GA market in about a month,” Catania said, noting GA uses about 308 million gallons of fuel each year — “not a large amount, but it’s important to a large number of people.”
Also important is keeping the cost affordable. Swift Fuels officials see the fuel costing no more than 100LL.
Another important point: 100SF can fall right into the present distribution channels. FBOs won’t need to add a second pump or make any changes to their existing fuel system, Catania said, adding the company has already reached an agreement with major distributors to distribute the fuel.
What about airplane owners? There will be a few changes needed. “The POH will have to be slightly rewritten,” he said. “And the fuel is slightly heavier, so it will affect weight & balance calculations.”
On the plus side, the fuel offers an 8%-15% boost in volume energy, researcher-speak for added mpg.
An educational campaign will be necessary to let aircraft owners know about the new fuel and what it means to them, coming from the FAA and the alphabet groups, including AOPA and EAA, he said.
THE BIG QUESTION
For aircraft owners, the big question is all about octane. “They say my engine needs lead and high octane for lubrication. With a minimum octane rating of 102.2, heading up to 105, “you never have to worry about that,” Catania said.
That’s because 100SF lubricates valve components. “Its lubricity is more like JetA,” he said, noting there is no lubricity standard for 100LL.
“We tried to get ahead and test 100SF like JetA,” he continued. “We did a long-term test at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, putting 4,500 gallons of fuel through a Lycoming engine to simulate the wear and tear experienced at TBO. There was no more wear and tear on the internal engine components than 100LL — in fact there was less because there were no sticky lead deposits.”
For more information: SwiftEnterprises.com.
G Morton says
K DeJeanâ€¦ â€œExpand it beyond aviation to other transportation including gasoline powered automobiles in the futureâ€
K DeJean makes the most sense of any comments Iâ€™ve seen regarding mogas as an aviation fuel. Those whom use mogas as avgas (with Swift blended instead of ethanol) would have a safe, affordable alternative to ANY 100 octane avgas and possibly be able to use a modified (with Swift Fuel) mogas STC. This would also eliminate the need for ethanol testing required within the current STC. With Swiftâ€™s added production demand as an auto fuel blend instead of ethanol, the production needs and the volume produced would not only be predicated on avgas, but as an auto fuel blend stock as well, increasing demand by many hundreds of millions of gallons. This volume would also keep Swiftâ€™s costâ€™s lower in all areas of production as well as to the end users, including aviation. If mogas was rid of ethanol and replaced with Swift as a blend stock, I would think the possibility of adding more airport mogas pumps would look much better to FBOâ€™s. It might be time for a change in tactics regarding the demand of just the removal of ethanol from mogas for a small sector of aviation, and boaters as well.
Dan Heath says
I have been following this for a long time and am anxiously waiting for the opportunity to use something that comes from this country. I am glad that GA will no longer have to support foreign oil and our engines no longer have to deal with those lead deposits, as an added bonus. Thank you.
Dean Billing says
“Catania said, noting GA uses about 308 million gallons of fuel each year …” I find it odd that in the 24 August 2010 report about “Unleaded fuel passes Embry-Riddle tests” reported here on GAN: http://www.generalaviationnews.com/?p=28193#more-28193 ERAU claims that “Small aircraft burn nearly 190 million gallons of aviation fuel a year”. So which is it? Does GA burn 300+ mgy or about 190 mgy or less? I would think that this would be very important for market planning for a new industry. I covered this conundrum on the GA Fuels Blog: http://www.generalaviationnews.com/?p=26130#more-26130
George Nye says
So wonderful. Thanks
Kent Misegades says
This sure sounds encouraging, but it needs to be noted that there is already a lead-free aviation fuel widely available now and at a lower cost than 100LL – that is unleaded, ethanol-free premium gasoline, aka Mogas. It powers 70%-80% of all legacy piston-engine aircraft with nothing more than an inexpensive paper STC from Petersen Aviation. It also powers essentially 100% of all new LSAs whose engines are designed to run on 91 octane gasoline. Yes, we need a 100 octane fuel for the remaining 20% of the high-performance aircraft, and Swift might be one alternative. I would like to see hard dynamometer numbers though on the fuel’s effect on engine performance and fuel consumption under typical flight conditions. How does Swift propose we deal with the fact that it weighs 16% more per gallon than 100LL (or Mogas, which has the same density as 100LL)? Will this not require all new weight and balance charts for our airplanes? Does this not imply the need for an STC? What happens if we must mix 100LL and 100SF? How do we do the weight and balance then? And of course, what will 100SF cost us at the pump? It is great to see their progress, but let’s answer these important questions before getting to excited. In the meantime, can’t we also find the means to get Mogas pumps on our airfields and do something to support sport aviators, the vast majority of us?
Mark Jones Jr says
Flew a C-17 with biofuel this week. First ever flight with HRJ 50-50 blend with JP-8.
K DeJean says
If it works well, another possibility would be to expand it beyond aviation to other transportation including gasoline powered automobiles in the future. Start off with the Swift petroleum process to make the fuel, or combine it with current fuel sources instead of ethanol, then continue to work on your biomass production for the future. All gasoline cycle engines might be able to run off a renewable fuel source for the future. That way aviation fuel is worked into a large fuel volume source with automobiles and other transportation.