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UK and US military researchers trial biofuelled UAV

1st April 2022 - 16:45 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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This UAV undertook the first-ever synthetic kerosene-powered UAV flight in the UK in February 2022. (Photo: ONR)

R&D work on synthetic fuel may help the RAF to achieve its ambitious objective of net-zero carbon emissions from its operations by 2040.

The RAF Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) teamed up in February 2022 to conduct the first-ever synthetic kerosene-powered UAV flight.

Performed in partnership with UK-based startup company C3 Biotechnologies Ltd, the initial trial under Project Vermeer created 15 litres of synthetic biofuel (derived from halophilic bacteria) in laboratory conditions.

A biofuel-powered UAV completed a 20-minute test flight in Wiltshire, UK. As a result, the ONR noted in a 31 March statement that it and the RAF obtained ‘valuable data that indicates the fuel performs consistently to a high standard’.

Synthetic fuel would be an enabler for the RAF to achieve its objective of net-zero carbon emissions from its operations by 2040.

As for the US, RAdm Lorin Selby, Chief of Naval Research at the ONR, said ‘the ability to manufacture this fuel without large infrastructure requirements would be groundbreaking for deployed forces’.

In 2018, the ONR sponsored work to combine technology developed at the Naval Air Warfare Center in the US and at the University of Manchester in the UK to convert holophilic bacteria into drop-in synthetic aviation fuel.

Two years later, the technology was integrated into C3 Bio-Technologies.

The next step involved ONR Global partnering with RAF RCO to demonstrate this new capability, culminating in the February 2022 flight.

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