LONDON – A joint British-U.S. effort to power drones using synthetic kerosene have taken a step forward with a 20 minute flight of a test vehicle, the Ministry of Defence here said March 16.
British company C3 Biotechnologies, supported by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Navy, produced 15 liters of fuel in a laboratory to test the engine and undertake a successful flight from an airfield in southwest England.
The next phase of the program, known as Project Vermeer in the U.K., will see C3 Biotechnologies, a spin-out company from the University of Manchester, refine the production process and develop deployable manufacturing facilities capable of producing fuel without major supporting infrastructure.
The December 2021 test used a Callen-Lenz-designed Fregata remotely piloted vehicle, according to the MOD.
Chief of U.S. Naval Research Rear Adm. Lorin C. Selby termed the initiative “exciting and game-changing.”
“The U.S. Navy is committed to finding innovative solutions to operational challenges, and the ability to manufacture this fuel without large infrastructure requirements would be ground-breaking for deployed forces,” said Selby.
The C3 Biotechnologies synthetic kerosene is produced mixing agricultural and industrial waste with bacteria to create a fossil-free aviation fuel using chemical and heat.
The RAF said in a statement the sustainable fuel process makes it an attractive option for deployments around the world.
Air Vice Marshal Lincoln Taylor, whose title is the RAF chief of staff capability, reckons the work could ameliorate logistics bottlenecks and address environmental issues.
“The RAF needs to ensure that we are at the forefront of technology to safeguard our own resilience and operational capability, whilst minimizing our damage to the environment,” he said. “Fuel scarcity and cost will only ever increase in its impact on our operations, and synthetic fuels for our aircraft are one potential solution to this situation.”
The drone flight is the second synthetic fuel test success for the RAF in a matter of months, although the two production processes used are radically different.
Last November the MoD announced an Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft had completed a short flight powered by synthetic gasoline.
That time, though, the RAF used a synthetic fuel developed by British company Zero Petroleum, 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 synthetic fuel.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.