Swift earns unleaded fuel test standard

May 26, 2011

Swift Enterprises reached a milestone in its quest to bring an unleaded aviation fuel to market when standards body ASTM International approved a specification for testing of its fuel, the company announced May 23.

The specification defines the performance and formulation standards Swift must meet for consistent testing of its fuel. The Indiana-based company expects this to streamline the test process as it works toward a commercial specification.

“This is just one huge milestone on the path to final certification,” said Swift Vice President of Renewable Fuels Jon Ziulkowski. The specification does not allow the company to sell its fuel commercially, but it ensures that fuel delivered to various testing agencies—such as engine manufacturers or the FAA—consistently meets the same performance parameters, he said. It also allows the fuel to be run in nonexperimental-registered equipment as part of a test plan, he said, saving the time and cost of certifying engines and equipment as experimental.

Swift’s fuel, 100SF, is a high-octane, binary fuel for piston engines that can be derived from petroleum or biomass. The company said its test specification is modeled after that of 100LL “to ensure the continued safe operation of every aircraft/engine in the fleet.”

The company has been testing the fuel’s current formulation since 2005, Ziulkowski said. In addition to Swift’s own research, the FAA conducted endurance testing at its William J. Hughes Technical Center. Ziulkowski said Swift’s achievement proves that ASTM’s consensus-based process works.

“We’ve proven that if you have all of your data, ASTM is not a problem,” he said.

Going forward, Ziulkowski said, testing will focus on working with the general aviation industry and engine manufacturers “to prove the fuel works in their worst-case scenarios.” The goal is a commercial specification that would allow Swift fuel to be used in all aircraft that currently burn 100LL.

Efforts to find an unleaded alternative to 100LL intensified in 2010 when the Environmental Protection Agency took a preliminary step that could lead to regulations on lead emissions from general aviation aircraft. AOPA and other associations formed the GA Avgas Coalition to lay out a plan for facilitating the qualification of and transition to an unleaded fuel—while ensuring 100LL is available for as long as it is needed.

The association also participates in the FAA’s Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee, a government/industry committee that also includes Swift and is tasked with identifying issues that fuel developers must address. The group will not choose the next fuel for piston aircraft, but AOPA works to stay abreast of efforts throughout the industry; in addition to the association’s day-to-day interactions with fuel and engine companies, AOPA President Craig Fuller has visited Swift and other fuel developer General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) to learn about progress and the companies’ plans for the future.