There are two ways to approach finding a solution to the leaded AvGas issue. First, develop a new fuel to replace leaded AvGas (100LL). Second, develop new engines and modify existing engines to run on fuel that is now readily available. Of the two options, the most time and attention is being given to developing a replacement fuel.
A replacement fuel for 100LL must meet several criteria.
- It must be non-pollutant.
- It must not cause deterioration of existing aircraft engines including seals and gaskets.
- It must not jeopardize aircraft safety.
- It must be affordable.
Companies testing ethanol based fuels have found problems even in automobile engines (i.e. ethanol is a solvent and can deteriorate seals, gaskets, etc.; ethanol absorbs water which would be deadly in an aviation fuel tank) so this is not an option to replace 100LL. While Swift Enterprises is developing a promising unleaded fuel, there is still much fine tuning to be done to meet these criteria. The FAA has tested Swift’s fuel and recommends further research and testing. (FAA reports on Swift Fuel endurance data – AOPA). Another replacement that looks promising is G100UL that is being developed by General Aviation Modifications, Inc. (GAMI). For a report on testing of both these fuels see an article published in the American Bonanza Society (ABS) online September edition – Future Fuels.
While modifications are being made to some general aviation engines so they will run on MoGas (automobile gasoline), there are a small percentage of high performance piston engines that cannot be successfully modified. The owners of these planes are the ones who are panicking over the likelihood of EPA banning lead in AvGas in the future.
In our opinion at DES, panic is not called for. The wheels of government regulation turn extremely slowly. It takes years for a proposed regulation to become effective even if there is no opposition. The EPA has repeatedly stated that it is willing to work with the Coalition and the FAA to find a solution. A replacement will be found or modifications made. The big question is “What is it going to cost?”