Have you ever wondered what makes aircraft fuel unique and not-suitable for cars? After all, why can’t you use jet fuel in your vehicle to give it incredible power? What is the difference? Let’s explore.
What exactly is jet fuel?
Fuel is made up of long-strings of hydrocarbon atoms and sorted into different types through a distillation column. The longer, heavier strings fall to the bottom, and the lighter atom chains float to the top (this is a fundamental summary). Some of the most common types of hydrocarbons are natural gas with very light chains, gasoline (or petrol depending on where you read this), followed by kerosene, then diesel, lubricating oil, and then residual oils on the very bottom.
Gasoline (gasoline) has 7 to 11 atoms in a chain. Jet fuel is a little heavier than gasoline, at around 12-15 atoms long. It is closer to kerosene than gasoline.
What types of jet fuel are there?
There are two types of jet fuel with self-explanatory names – Jet A and Jet B. The main difference between the two is the freezing point of the fuel, with Jet B having a much lower point and thus is useful for planes in icy regions. The latter is also the fuel of choice for the US Air Force and therefore generally reserved for those operations.
Having a higher flash point (point of catching fire) is also an added advantage of using a kerosene base for the fuel. Combined with the lower freezing point, this gives aircraft a much safer operating range.
Some fuel providers include some additives like anti-static chemicals, fluids to prevent corrosion of the tanks, de-icing agents to lower the point even more, and even some chemicals with anti-bacterial properties.
ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials) regulates aviation fuel, so any aircraft landing at any airport worldwide can get access to the same quality of fuel.
Can ships use jet fuel?
You might have realized that another type of vehicle in the world is big, bulky, and requires a lot of power – ships!
Boats typically use a derivative of diesel to power themselves on long journeys (much like a long-haul flight). Normally, ships require so much fuel that it ends up being incredibly expensive even to consider aircraft fuel instead.
“As a very combustible petroleum product, jet fuel can be used in a marine fuel blend, and so we would not be surprised this practice may be occurring,” said Tim Wilson, principal specialist for fuels, lubes, and emissions at Lloyd’s Register to Bloomberg.
But these are not standard times, and with less than 50% of all aircraft flying today, there is a massive abundance of aircraft fuel available. Hence, we have now seen a trend of aircraft fuel moving to maritime operations.
“Only in a situation where the economy is in complete tatters, do we see usually more expensive components heading straight into VLSFO [very low-sulfur fuel oil],” said Eugene Lindell, a senior analyst at consultant JBC Energy GmbH to World Oil.
With the price of a barrel of jet fuel at around 50% of its 2019 value, it looks like this practice may last some time.