The RAF is working with Zero Petroleum to research and develop synthetic fuel technology, which has the potential to eventually eliminate reliance on fossil fuels.
Having flown a world-record first 100% synthetic flight in November 2021, this next phase will conduct research into scaling-up the technology and producing more fuel for certification and testing.
The research – announced today at the Farnborough International Airshow - will provide data to evidence the scalability and efficiency of the technology, which could be a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Fuel certifications and design blueprints from this research will enable construction of squadron-scale fuel manufacturing capability as a next step.
Synthetic fuels potentially burn more cleanly and consistently than fossil fuels, providing operational and logistical benefits, which will be tested in this phase. As a result, fuel manufactured using this technology could eliminate fossil carbon emissions in flight, reduce the RAF’s reliance on global supply chains, and increase operational resilience.
The creativity and ingenuity of the RAF and UK industry, backed by our ring-fenced research and development funding, has resulted in ground-breaking new fuel technology.
With the potential to improve operational resilience and take an important step in meeting government climate change commitments, this exciting next phase could change the landscape on military aviation.
Defence Procurement Minister
In November 2021 the Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft, which was on display at Farnborough today, completed a short UK flight, powered by 15 litres of whole-blend synthetic gasoline. Whilst green technologies like electric and hydrogen power generation are viable for many RAF platforms, high-performance aircraft require a liquid fuel alternative to maintain operational capabilities.
This ground-breaking collaboration with Zero Petroleum is a glimpse of the future for aviation fuel. It points to how we will crack the NetZero challenge as a national and international endeavour, and the leading role the Royal Air Force and UK science and technology can play in that.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston
The Chief of the Air Staff
Zero Petroleum’s synthetic fuel is manufactured by extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using energy generated from renewable sources like wind or solar, these are combined to create the ‘drop-in’ synthetic fuel.
This technology is a viable substitute for all fossil-petroleum demand at scale, without the land-use and scaling limitations of bio- and waste-based systems.
The RAF’s vision for fossil-free flight using synthetic fuels is matched by Zero Petroleum’s commitment and enthusiasm to deliver the solution using unique British technology. Together we showed what was possible with our record-breaking demonstration flight in 2021.
We are incredibly excited to start now on the important development of this technology to production-readiness in advance of deployment at scale to flight operations. We could not wish for a better partner than the RAF which has been a pioneer throughout its 100+ years of existence.
Founder of Zero Petroleum
The revolutionary breakthrough underscores the MOD’s solution-based approach to addressing climate change issues whilst meeting operational commitments and remaining agile in a world of evolving threats. It supports ambitions laid out in the Defence Command Paper and is backed by the £24 billion defence settlement, including a £6.6 billion R&D investment.
The sustainable aviation fuel could mark a step-change towards the RAF’s goal to be Net Zero by 2040. Net Zero is the balancing of carbon emitted into the atmosphere and the carbon removed from it. Working towards the Government’s Net Zero by 2050 goal, the RAF also plans for their first Net Zero airbase by 2025.