RAF completes first flight with synthetically fuelled aircraft

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The incredible feat was accomplished by Group Captain Peter Hackett on board an Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft. Earlier this month, the small plane launched from Costwold Airport in Gloucestershire on a brief flight using a synthetic fuel dubbed UL91. The eco-friendly fuel is manufactured by the London-based firm Zero Petroleum and is made by extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from the atmosphere.

The two components are then combined using renewable energy to create a promising alternative to polluting aviation fuel.

According to the Ministry of Defence, the new technology has the potential to cut carbon emissions by 80 to 90 percent per flight.

The UK is firmly committed to slashing its greenhouse emissions by 2050 in a bid to reach net zero.

And by 2035, the Government has adopted a target of reducing emissions by at least 78 percent.

By some estimates, the global aviation industry is responsible for about two percent of all human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – the leading cause of global warming and climate change.

The RAF has partnered with Zero Petroleum as part of the RAF’s Project MARTIN, which aims to develop new fuels for the “fast jets of the future”.

Jeremy Quin, Minister for Defence Procurement, said: “This is a world first ‘innovation’.

“It shows the determination of UK Armed Forces to drive forward creative ideas on Net Zero alongside meeting operational commitments.

“Whilst green technologies like electric and hydrogen power generation are viable for many RAF platforms, high-performance aircraft require a liquid fuel alternative, like the UL91, to maintain operational capabilities.”

The Ministry of Defence is hopeful this is only the first in a long line of innovations that will come out of the scheme.

Although companies such as ZeroAvia are already in the process of developing hydrogen-powered aircraft, the RAF is keen to find alternatives that will provide better performance.

Synthetic fuels could be key to providing world-class performance with a minimal impact on the environment.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff, said: “Climate change is a transnational challenge which threatens global resilience and our shared security and prosperity.

“I am determined to tackle this head on and have set the Royal Air Force the ambitious goal to be Net Zero by 2040.

“The way we power our aircraft will be a big part of achieving that goal, and this exciting project to make aviation fuel from air and water shows how it might be done.

“I am delighted at the award of this world record and to see the Royal Air Force yet again at the leading edge of innovation and technology.”

Before the Ikarus took to the skies, the UL91 fuel was extensively tested on the ground at the CFS Aero facility in Warwickshire.

The initial test results show engines burning through UL91 performed as if burning fossil fuels but at a lower temperatures.

This is important because it suggests synthetic fuels could extend the lifetime of an aircraft’s engine, on top of cutting greenhouse emissions.

Paddy Lowe, CEO Zero Petroleum said: “This unique project with the Royal Air Force demonstrates the validity of our synthetic fuel and the potential it has to eliminate fossil CO2 emissions from a number of difficult but critical sectors, including transport which currently accounts for 23 percent of the global total.”

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