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Effects of Electrification of Cars on the supply of aircraft fuel

There has been talk on various threads here about Electric cars and how the technology might translate to aircraft.

Earlier this week, I read an article predicting that by 2025 (just 8 years away) all new cars sold will be electric. The time scale might be a little optimistic, but it’s probably not too far off. After that, petrol stations will gradually start to disappear as fewer and fewer people need them. Once they start to become difficult and inconvenient to find, it will accelerate the scrapping of second hand fossil fuel cars. I think it’s quite likely that in the next 15 years, petrol stations will start to become harder to find and less convenient to get to.

15 years is well within the lifecycle of a typical light aircraft. So what effect will this have on people flying aircraft powered by ROTAX engines? A lot of the economics of this is based on the fact that they can use mogas. If they need to switch to avgas (due to difficulty finding mogas at convenient locations) that will be a major increase in operating costs.

But that’s probably not the end of it. Avgas is very similar to petrol. They probably have a common production lines where the fuels are initially one, and late in the refining process split up into separate fuels. If AVGAS can no longer benefit from the infrastructure of petrol, it will presumably become much more expensive. Perhaps prohibitively so.

So should someone planning on buying an aircraft now be seriously concerned about the future availability and cost of the fuel that will be powering it?

Will the “old” avgas fleet be scrapped and people buy new electric aircraft, and the last owners of the avgas/mogas fleet find themselves with an expensive lump of scrap metal?

Or will we be able to remove the fossil fuel engines and retrofit electric engines and batteries to the fleet?

EIWT Weston, Ireland

In the 10-20 year time frame: Buy Diesel or a turbine. In the general trend towards electrical power, weight critical applications are the last that will be converted, which means long-range airliners, and they will need a Jet-A supply. It is already difficult to get Avgas in some places because it is too niche.

Biggin Hill

I am uncertain about this. I guess the fuel will remain available for decades. But for how much (price) is difficult to say. @Cobalt is probably right about this.
Although I might add that for some of us an electric powered aircraft might actually be an alternative within the timeframe mentioned by him, e.g. 10-20 years. If you don’t expect 1300+ nm range out of it (I picked that number because it’s Peter’s often quoted TB20 range), chances are that a battery powered aircraft will be able to perform your “mission profile” within that timeframe. Maybe a bit slower, or, if at the same speed as your current aircraft, with even less endurance.
Still anyone who flies short-range only, maybe say max. 2-3 hours, might get to buy a viable electric powered GA aircraft in our lifetime.

Low-hours pilot
EDVM Hildesheim, Germany

I have the funny feeling that most of us in this group will run out of medical long before we run out of Av/Mogas.

Probably. there is the old saying that we typically overestimate the speed of change, and underestimate the magnitude

Biggin Hill

Keeping this strictly on the topic (we have had various threads on electric cars and aircraft) I don’t believe this issue will arise in the foreseeable future – simply because

  • the electricity generation and distribution infrastructure does not exist for wholesale replacement of petrol cars, by one or two orders of magnitude
  • no govt can withstand such a loss of petroleum tax revenue, without putting huge tax on something else, and it would probably be road (mileage) charging, which will in turn make electric cars little more than toys for champagne socialists which will clip the market growth
  • there are way too many people driving long distances; this is perhaps not so on a small island but I work above a petrol station next to a big road and while fuel sales are down some 10-15% (due to much better MPG from diesels) most people filling up are going somewhere a long way

I also think mogas usage in GA is self-limiting because

  • airports really dislike splitting up their fuel sales across multiple products (it cripples their volume discounts) and this is why TOTAL’s market grab attempt failed so dismally, so most airfields don’t carry mogas, and never will
  • the hassles of hauling car petrol from the petrol station to the plane is impractical except for the smallest of flying machines
  • the lack of quality control of car petrol limits its use to only a small section of GA

So I wouldn’t worry about it Well, until they get nuclear fusion working and then everything will change.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

dublinpilot wrote:

Earlier this week, I read an article predicting that by 2025 (just 8 years away) all new cars sold will be electric.

Not likely given that in 2017 ideas on that are all over the map, both literally and figuratively. I don’t think many people would make this prediction based on the body of evidence. In eight years I’d predict a slight rise in electric car sales, in competition with other ideas and development. I do think there will be an ongoing trend toward industrial electrification over a long period of time, decades, based on working over 20 years in a large organization that is primarily focused on electrification of heavy machinery.

dublinpilot wrote:

Will the “old” avgas fleet be scrapped and people buy new electric aircraft, and the last owners of the avgas/mogas fleet find themselves with an expensive lump of scrap metal? Or will we be able to remove the fossil fuel engines and retrofit electric engines and batteries to the fleet?

I see no logical reason to expect that US operations of my existing avgas aircraft (or autofuel by STC) will be greatly affected by fuel issues within my lifetime, say within the next 30 years. If for whatever reason European-specific developments do not align with that scenario, in comparison to predicting radically different aircraft coming to market making current aircraft obsolete and inoperable, I think a more plausible prediction would be that European piston GA will come to an end. I don’t think that’s realistic either.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 26 May 23:19

The obvious answer would be diesel. The technology exists and if the engine producers finally get serious because their core products are under threat it is easy to implement even to the existing fleet.

Jet A1 will exist for a loooong time unless airline travel would cease as well. And whilenthere are some fantasies afoot by left radicals of taking away travel privileges from the masses inder the pretext of saving the planet, I would be astonished if the people would let this happen without a fight.

15 years is nothing in aviation. Seeing that most of our airframes are more than 30 years old I guess that the current generation will last well into the 2050ties.

Also I regard the e-car predictions as green wet dreams unless new battery and charging technology develops. Even then… in times where major nations curtail their energy production by killing off nuclear power and are talking of HUGE new taxes on power, e cars and planes will become massively unattractive unless if course similar fiscal attacks on fuel would happen as well. Clearly there are ideas on that afoot but again I thunk the people will eventually rise up against this.

So I won’t hold my breath that fuel will disappear

LSZH(work) LSZF (GA base), Switzerland

Random thoughts:

1. Avgas has no long term future. It’ll be as easy to get your hands on as purple 130LL is today. You’ll have to cart very expensive barrels to your aircraft on your pickup truck. And a long cross country trip will take a week in planning and coordination to get fuel hauled out. Good news is by that time Diesel/Jet A engines will be more common.

2. Why oil companies haven’t already added charging stations to their gas stations is completely beyond me. If they’re that stupid and shortsighted, they deserve to go bankrupt when gas engine sales dwindles. They could have owned the Tesla Supercharger network model if they’d just acted in time, instead they’ve that away and plod on like it’s the year 1950.

The subject line is specific – whether electric cars will affect liquid aviation fuel availability.

EDIT: the merged “electric/hybrid” thread is now here

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
17 Posts
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