Researchers Work to Make Alternative Jet Fuel Affordable

Rising oil prices are prompting increased interest in alternative jet fuels, despite obstacles.

But Glover said synthetics currently require more resources to produce than traditional jet fuel.

Still, Lee says synthetics could be used in ultra-efficient jet engines that are under development today, potentially saving energy. Another advantage is the U.S. has large coal and natural gas reserves.

Although research into commercial jet fuel alternatives is still in the early stages, some expect quicker success in using alternative fuel for specialized aircraft.

AeroVironment Inc., based in Monrovia, Calif., is at work on the Global Observer unmanned surveillance aircraft that would be powered by liquid hydrogen. Spokesman Steven Gitlin said liquid hydrogen allows the aircraft to fly about four times longer than traditional jet fuel, although it is two to four times more expensive.

AeroVironment also developed - and successfully flew - a solar-powered aircraft, although the Helios Prototype crashed in later flight tests because of structural problems.

In the immediate future, the focus remains on making traditional airplanes more fuel-efficient. Boeing says its new 787 jetliner, scheduled to enter service in 2008, promises to be as fuel-efficient per person as a hybrid car traveling with two passengers.

"We try to build the most fuel-efficient airplane, so we need as little as possible fuel to meet the demand," Glover said.

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