Military Tests 1st Synthetic Fuel for Jets

The Air Force's experiment is being watched by a commercial aviation industry eager to stabilize and cut fuel costs, which have soared along with the price of oil this year.

Sega said the method of turning raw carbon sources such as coal or natural gas into usable fuel was developed by German scientists in the 1920s and used briefly by Germany during World War II and later by South Africa.

The Air Force, which is the military's largest user of fuel, began looking at the idea anew in 1999, said Michael Aimone, the Air Force's assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics. He said the Air Force uses 2.6 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, at a cost of $4.5 billion.

Commercial U.S. airlines burn more than 53 million gallons of jet fuel per day, the industry group says. Fuel now amounts to 20% to 30% of total airline operating costs, twice the historical average, it said.

The project took on a new priority after President Bush, in his Jan. 31 State of the Union speech, set the goal of using technology to replace more than 75% of oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

Bedke and other military officials said they don't know yet what kind of cost savings, if any, could be gained from using synthetic fuel. But its viability has grown with the price of oil. Beyond such savings, however, the officials said there are strong potential benefits of synthetic fuel, including cleaner emissions and a stable domestic energy source.

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