Of all industrialized countries, Sweden has (arguably) the toughest environmental laws. You'd think, therefore, that if any country had an answer to the 1OOLL problem," the Swedes would surely have one. And you'd be partly right. Hjelmco Oil, which serves the greater Baltic Sea market, has been selling unleaded avgas to the Swedish air force since 1981-- six years prior to the introduction (in Sweden) of unleaded automobile gas. The same company currently offers something called 91 /96UL at 55 Scandenavian airports.
If you've ever wondered what the 91 /96UL fuel mentioned in Lycoming Service Instruction No. 1070L is, now you know. It's Hjelmco's unleaded avgas. And company president Lars H. Hjelmberg (who gave a presentation at the Baylor conference, and who himself flies a Piper Navajo) is happy to give anyone who'll listen the Unleaded avgas" pitch. Unfortunately, Hjelmberg's message isn't being heard by as many pilots as he'd like. Despite the fact that his fuel is specifically acknolwedged in Lycoming's fuels bulletin and is the only avgas in the world that simultaneously meets the requirements of both ASTM D-910 and Swedish environmental laws, Hjelmco 91 /96UL is used by only a small percentage of the approximately 70% of the Baltic fleet that could take advantage of it. Market penetration is (after six years) disappointing. Even though Sweden has a law stating that whenever there exists a product that is better than other products for the environment or for human health, the better product must be used, Hjelmco still sells less of its 91/96UL than it does of the skull- and crossbones-labeled 1 100LL that it also sells. (In Sweden, any product containing more than 0.1% benzene must carry the skull- and-crossbones symbology, by law.)
The reason for 91 /96UL's Door sellthrough? Consumer conservatism. Mechanics are reluctant to tell pilots to go use a new fuel," Lars Hjelmberg points out, "and pilots themselves are very conservative as well. So despite the product's cost-competitiveness, despite the lack of cancer-causing dyes (Swedish law requires unleaded fuels to be colorless), despite the absence of ozone harming ethylene dibromide, it's an uphill sell.
You'd think the easiest part of the selling job would be the lack of lead-no lead to foul spark plugs, form valve deposits, abrade engine parts, and coalesce as sludge. Engines can only last longer without lead. Swedish pilots apparently don't fully appreciate this. Or they may fear losing the valve seat/face lubricity that lead ostensibly provides. To counter these (and other) concerns, Hjelmco has put together a 24-page brochure outlining the benefits of 91/96UL vis- a-vis 100LL. Prominently mentioned on page 8 of the brochure is the fact that in the United States, more than 40,000 airplanes (several times the number of planes in the Baltic region served by Hjelmco) are operating on unleaded gasoline, without ill effects.
Arguably the most important selling point of 91/96UL is the fact that after six years on the market in Sweden, there have been no fuel-related problems in engines using the product. But the huge sales boost Hjelmco needs probably won't come until 100LL is actually banned. (Leaded avgas is currently produced in Sweden under a waiver.) Hjelmco is working on a true 100-octane unleaded replacement for 100LL, utilizing synthetic distillates, whose environmental qualities will be even better than those of 91/96UL. That product is still at least two years from being ready to market.