news | 28 February 2023

Department of Defense To Prototype Use of Synthetic Fuels for Contested Environments

As the largest government consumer of fuel, the DoD is dedicated to reducing emissions and taking bold steps to accelerate adaptation to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change.

Producing aviation fuel on-site using locally-available feedstocks holds promise to reduce both supply chain issues and greenhouse gas emissions.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA (February 28, 2023)—The Department of Defense (DoD) spends significant time and resources managing worldwide aircraft fuel logistics, which often involves a combination of ships, tanker planes, and convoys. Not only are these supply networks time- and cost-intensive, but they become extremely vulnerable when carrying out distributed operations in a contested environment. As the largest government consumer of fuel, the DoD is dedicated to reducing emissions and taking bold steps to accelerate adaptation to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change.

Leveraging new and expanding commercial synthetic drop-in fuels technology (to include jet fuel, Diesel, and gasoline) has the potential to shift the Department’s fuel resupply paradigm in favor of synthetic fuel production at or near the point of need. Small-scale, highly-mobile, and rapidly-deployable synthetic fuel production systems would decouple fuel from a constrained logistics environment and deter adversary targeting while also providing decarbonization pathways for the future joint forces.

To reduce these logistical challenges and meet the Military Services’ climate action goals, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) partnered with the United States Air Force (USAF), the Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund (OECIF), along with support from the Department of Energy (DoE) and the U.S. Army’s Office of the Chief of Engineers —awarding a contract with a $65 million ceiling to Air Company. The award funds Project SynCE (Synthetic Fuels for the Contested Environment), which aims to create fuel from the atmosphere’s most abundant pollutant, carbon dioxide (CO2.) Air Company's system mimics photosynthesis to convert CO2 from sustainable feedstocks into Sustainable Aviation Fuel or “SAF” that is carbon-negative in its production.

"We have an incredible opportunity to reduce our burden on global energy supply chains, and simultaneously reduce emissions, without sacrificing mission effectiveness," said USAF Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Pearl,  Project SynCE Operational Lead. "By developing and deploying on-site fuel production technology, our Joint Force will be more resilient and sustainable. Together with the DoE and the commercial industry, we're working towards revolutionary energy solutions that benefit not just the military, but our society as a whole."

SAF could be produced on-site at fixed bases as well as in remote forward operating locations and is considered a drop-in fuel, meaning it does not require blending with traditional fossil fuels to operate in an aircraft. This will give the Services the ability to reduce or eliminate their dependence on a “commercial-first” strategy, which creates reliance upon local commercial markets for fuel.

The ideal SAF is capable of leveraging a variety of locally-available CO2 feedstocks, sourced from  air or seawater in a small, mobile form-factor that will enable agile basing concepts around the world. Not only would SAF give forward-deployed greater mission flexibility, but also it will begin to greatly reduce life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to conventional jet fuel. In this case, leaving a net-negative GHG footprint. makes SAF more cost-effective for widespread use. 

"In support of the National Defense Strategy, operational energy initiatives assure the delivery of energy where and when needed and increase the ability to sustain mission effectiveness in contested operating environments." - FY20 OE Annual Report