Project FIERCE fuels the future of synthetic jet fuel generation
Editor’s note: Maj. Nicole Pearl was a Blue Horizons Fellow in 2021 who served as co-lead on Project FIERCE. She is now an innovative solutions strategist at Air Force Futures.
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) — Jet fuel relies on a complex network of drillers, refiners and shippers, but those who were near the Hsu STEM Range in Laurel Hill, Florida, July 27, 2022, heard the sounds of a small jet flying, heralding a new era for the jet fuel supply chain. Led by the Air Force’s Project FIERCE, this was the first demonstration of a technology that could allow flightlines and airports to generate fuel on-site in the future.
Since 2008, the Air Force has used alternative fuels, known as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), that require blending with traditional fossil fuels. Most of these alternative fuels require refinement or blending by large refineries. In recent years, energy companies, engine/aircraft manufacturers and airlines have come together to explore new fuel synthesis technologies that would not require blending with fossil fuels.
Beginning in fall 2021, as part of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s Blue Horizons Fellowship, Project FIERCE partnered with the Air Force Research Laboratory, AIR COMPANY and the Hsu Educational Foundation to create and test a fully synthetic “drop-in” replacement jet fuel from captured carbon dioxide and water. The most recent round of testing confirmed it as the first fuel made entirely from carbon dioxide emissions that matches the properties and performance of Jet A-1, and contains all necessary components of jet fuel, including aromatics.
This synthetic jet fuel, distributed under the name AIRMADE SAF is net carbon neutral. It requires as much captured carbon input as is emitted when the fuel is burned, but rather than contributing additional emissions, it’s recycling.
The Department of Defense is largely tied to the commercial energy and fuel markets, both domestically and abroad. A complex system of pipelines, ships, trucks and aircraft ensures fuel is delivered to bases. However, many areas of operation cannot always easily access the supply chain and fuel storage is limited in capacity. With this challenge in mind, Project FIERCE’s proof of concept explored the idea of on-site fuel generation. For now, just a few gallons can be produced in a day, but as this technology scales, forward bases could benefit from diversified supply, or operate independently without fuel resupply requirements.
The unmanned flight test team at the Hsu Educational Foundation executed the first flight demonstration in July with the 100% synthetic jet fuel. This collaboration between the Air Force and the Hsu Educational Foundation is a public-private partnership that is accelerating dual-use technology.
As one of many programs building the STEM ecosystem in Northwest Florida, the Hsu Foundation is a Federal Aviation Administration-designated recreational unmanned aerial system safety test administrator and is serving an appointment to the FAA’s Advanced Aviation Advisory Committee.
AFRL and Air Force Special Operations Command named Hsu’s unique collaboration with industry and military FieldWerx since it provides tools and training, fosters innovation to empower warfighters and builds a future workforce in STEM.
“The Hsu Foundation enabled Project FIERCE to get to a flight demonstration incredibly fast, which is so important because if a program is not flying, it’s dying.” said Maj. Cory Staudinger, Blue Horizons Fellow and co-lead of Project FIERCE.
The Air Force will use the data generated from these tests to inform further development of synthetic on-site fuel generation technologies.
“Actually flying with this fuel gives us confidence that we can continue investing in this technology so that one day it will open up new operational capabilities,” said Capt. Stephen Beaton, energy solutions strategist for Air Force Futures. “The future of our nation’s military strength depends on building enduring advantages and getting the technology we need more quickly.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.