Sustainability

RAF test pilot's world record flight on 100% synthetic fuel

The aircraft took off from Cotswold Airport, using fully synthetic gasoline made from just water, thin air and renewable energy.

A Royal Air Force test pilot has made history with the world's first-ever flight on 100% synthetic fuel.

The microlight, which took off from Cotswold Airport (formerly RAF Kemble) in Gloucestershire, used fully synthetic gasoline – made from just water, thin air and renewable energy.

RAF ambassador Carol Vorderman and former Formula One (F1) World Champion Damon Hill, who has invested in the venture, were there to watch the world record event.

Group Captain Willy Hackett, head of RAF Air Experimentation, told Forces News: "It's an historic moment, we are opening the dawn of new technologies that we used to help us prevent the damage the human race has been doing to the atmosphere for many years."

He added: "It is emitting, but the emissions are considerably less than fossil fuels."

The engineer, Paddy Lowe, who developed the technology used to design cars for F1.

The project is a collaboration between his private company and the Royal Air Force.

After 12 world championship wins with Williams, Mercedes and McClaren, the former F1 chief has entered the race to produce entirely fossil-free fuels – which could be used to power frontline military jets.

"Even kerosene is not good enough for a fast jet," he told us.

"This is why you have in-flight refuelling – it's not dense enough.

"There is no question of going back to hydrogen or certainly not electrification of military vehicles.

"Perhaps in support, but not in frontline – you just won't get the performance because of the weight, its energy density."

Watch: Meet Titan and Viking - are these hybrid vehicles the future of the battlefield?

Unlike biofuels, the synthetic gasoline does not use organic waste, and its only by-product is oxygen.

It is produced at a site on the Orkney Islands, using electricity generated from wind, tidal and wave energy.

Currently, only small quantities are being made.

Wayne Strachan, Commercial Director IGCL Technology, explained: "We didn't produce a huge amount because that wasn't the purpose of the demonstration, it was to prove that we could do it technically, and if we move into a more commercial footing, clearly we'll be able to produce much higher volumes.

"There's a bit of work to be done – I'm not going to stand here and say we could make this cheap as chips, that's just not what we do.

"It will be expensive, it will require investment but we will drive the costs down."

Synthetic fuel was used by the Germans in World War, however, this 21st-century version is produced in a completely clean manner and can be dropped into existing engines without the need for modification.

The team behind the fuel claim they can produce enough to stop using fossil fuels on all RAF aircraft by 2040.