The benefits of using gas-to-liquid synthetic jet fuel will undergo testing next year under a new cooperative effort launched today.
Qatar Airways, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Shell and Qatar Fuel Co. and Qatar Petroleum are part of the team. Detailed plans remain to be set, but Shell Aviation VP Sjoerd Post says the first flight trials should take place before the end of next year.
Qatar is supporting the effort to take advantage of its massive gas reserves. But Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker says the airline also wants to use the trial to stress its "green" credentials.
The GTL fuel promises higher fuel density, around 4%-5%, so aircraft should be able to fly the same distance using less fuel, thereby also reducing carbon dioxide output.
Initial work will be on a blend of equal parts kersin and GTL, with higher percentages to follow. The new fuel also is expected to improve local air quality by reducing particulates. Just how much and which substances remains to be seen.
For airlines, the synthetic fuel will not necessarily come with cost savings. Makers expect to charge a premium on a barrel-for-barrel comparison with kerosine, says Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi. But because less fuel will be used on the same stage length, there should not be a total cost penalty.
Even if the trial is a success, in-service use would likely not occur before 2010. Qatar expects its Pearl GTL production facility to come on line only around 2009.
The GTL trials come on top of other industry efforts to explore biofuels.