The Royal Air Force is working with British firm Zero Petroleum to research and develop synthetic fuel technology, which has the potential to eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels in military aircraft.
In November 2021, RAF conducted a world-record first 100% synthetic flight with Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft, powered by 15 liters of whole-blend synthetic gasoline. This week, the Ikarus was displayed at the Farnborough International Airshow, where RAF also announced its plans for fuel certifications and design blueprints. This research will enable the construction of squadron-scale fuel manufacturing capability as a next step.
Synthetic fuels are believed to burn more cleanly and consistently than fossil fuels – that theory will form part of the testing in this phase. Fuel manufactured using this technology could eliminate fossil carbon emissions in flight, lessen the RAF’s reliance on global supply chains, and improve operational resilience by reducing the necessity for fuel resupplying.
Zero Petroleum’s synthetic fuel is manufactured by extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using energy generated from renewable sources like wind or solar. This synthetic fuel could be considered a viable substitute for all fossil-petroleum demand at scale, without the land-use and scaling limitations of bio- and waste-based systems.
“The RAF’s vision for a fossil-free flight using synthetic fuels is matched by Zero Petroleum’s commitment and enthusiasm to deliver the solution using unique British technology. Together we showed what was possible with our record-breaking demonstration flight in 2021,” said Paddy Lowe, founder of Zero Petroleum.
Sustainable aviation fuel could mark a step change toward the RAF’s goal to be Net Zero by 2040. Working towards the Government’s Net Zero by 2050 goal, the RAF also plans for their first Net Zero airbase by 2025, and the development of eco-friendly fuel will be a huge step in this direction.