Jet Engine Biofuel Passes Test With Flying Colors

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On April 25th, 2013, NASA researchers found that a commercial jet could safely fly with jet fuel that also contained plant oil. In fact, it was reported that a biofuel mix created from camelina plant oil did not affect a DC-8 aircraft’s engine performance as high as 39,000 feet. Additionally, it was reported that the biofuel mix produced 30% fewer emissions than traditional aviation fuel under certain circumstances, which is excellent news for the environment.

The Test Flights

The test flights (that took place near Edwards Air Force Base in California) were conducted between February and April when weather conditions were optimal in order to create contrails. To actually study the effects on the environment, a specially outfitted HU-25C Guardian airplane was used to analyze the contrails. In order to do so, the aircraft have to be as close as 300 feet to the DC-8 while in flight.

While the emission reductions were shown to be 30%, it is believed that the reduction would be even greater if jets could run entirely on biofuel. However, in order to move away from the 50-50 blend, a jet would have to be altered.

What Is Camelina Oil?

Camelina is an oilseed crop native to northeastern Europe. It can be cultivated in the United States and is considered to be well-suited for the Northern Plains states because it can handle low temperatures and requires little water.

While the research looks promising for using camelina oil to blend with traditional aviation fuel, its cost is a major factor in deciding whether or not it is really feasible as an alternative fuel source. With a price tag of about $18 per gallon, it is far more expensive than the $4 a gallon for traditional aviation fuel.

Future Testing

With the promising results from initial tests, more tests are planned for 2014. NASA also wants to do additional flight tests on other biofuels, such as algae. NASA is interested in using algae to create aviation biofuels in particular because of the fact that it does not need fresh water to grow. Unfortunately, researchers are limited because of continuous development of commercial applications and technologies.

With the uncertainty of oil prices, renewable biofuels will decrease the dependency on foreign oils. At the same time, biofuels will reduce carbon emissions and have a better impact on the environment. Not only do researchers hope to fuel jets, but the Navy is hoping to have green aircraft and ships as early as 2016.

It should also be noted that while there were small differences in emissions during flight, other research has shown that biofuels can have an even greater environment impact while jets are grounded. Since idling airplanes at busy airports greatly affect the air quality, using biofuels can reduce the damage done to the environment. However, more information about the research will likely be made available to the public, aviation industry, and Environmental Data Resources, in the weeks following the experiments.

Biofuels are the way of the future. With advancements in technology, people will soon be able to travel more while harming the environment less.

Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight via Flickr Creative Commons

This was a guest post provided by Tom Grant. Biofriendly Blog would like to thank Tom for his guest blog post. We appreciate his contribution and the information he was able to provide. Tom Grant consults businesses on environmental issues. He likes being involved in a fast growing field and enjoys sharing his environmental data resources and bio friendly topics on environment blogs.

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