Industry News

April 2009 Issue

Swift AvFuel: Too Good To Be True?

FAA testing shows that this biomass fuel has the octane punch. But we’re skeptical of production cost claims, given comparisons to ethanol.

The worry about 100LL is less when it will disappear than how many more stories you’ll have to endure predicting its imminent demise. We started in 1984, first warning of the air quality issue followed by the impending loss of the lead additives, which we predicted was just around the corner. Next, it was the refiners—there wouldn’t be enough to make the stuff. Then all the states would run leaded fuel out of town or the truckers wouldn’t truck it. It was always something. Yet, there it still is: Genuine 100LL at your local airport. It’s at least available, even if it isn’t cheap. But we swear, the stuff is going to go away and this time we mean it. The latest threat is simple economics: Declining demand may soon render avgas not worth the bother of blending, at least for some refiners. (Check back in 2015 to see how this prediction works out.) Next up as a would-be replacement is an intriguing new product that surfaced last summer called Swift Fuel—Swift being the name of the start-up company that proposes to develop the process to produce it. While other pretenders to the 100LL throne have come up short octane wise or just haven’t proven practical, the initial take on Swift Fuel is just the opposite. Initial tests show that it has the octane punch required to keep detonation-prone turbocharged engines from exploding, it burns cleanly, has no toxic lead and—get this—it’s a renewable biofuel that the inventors say can be made for $2 a gallon. If this sounds like one of those too-good-to-be-true business schemes pitched on the cable channels, it might not be. Swift Fuel is a serious industrial research program whose claims at least pass the initial smell test. But there are some niggling details that, if not show stoppers, could sprinkle a little sand in the gears.

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