Rolls-Royce RB211 on a Boeing 747-400 (photo: Rolls-Royce)
Fri 11 July 2008 – Rolls-Royce has partnered with British Airways in a programme that aims to test up to four alternative fuels on a RB211 engine taken from one of the airline’s Boeing 747 aircraft. The testing will take place on an indoor test bed at the aero-engine manufacturer’s Derby facility. Through a tender process the companies will invite suppliers to offer alternative fuel samples for the trial.
Following the process, a selection will be made of the fuels to undergo laboratory testing before being delivered to Rolls-Royce at the turn of the year, with each company being asked to supply up to 60,000 litres of its alternative fuel.
“It is critical that the fuel can not only do the job required of it, but can also offer a CO2 benefit and can be produced without a detrimental impact to food, land or water,” said Ric Parker, Director of Research and Technology at Rolls-Royce. “There must also be clear evidence of the potential for mass production and global distribution of an alternative fuel to support the world’s aviation industry.”
Rolls-Royce says that testing the engine in the controlled test bed environment will enable more accurate data to be gathered than would be possible on an actual flight because additional instrumentation can be used and performance and emissions will not be affected by other external factors.
The intensive trials will involve the engine being powered by both ordinary kerosene and the alternative fuels, and will be operated through its full range of power settings, including idle, acceleration, take-off and cruise.
Testing is expected to be completed by the end of March 2009, after which the results will be analysed and reported. The two companies promise the findings will be made public so the whole industry can benefit from the trial.
“Should the tests be successful, the potential for bringing us closer to a greener fuel alternative that will help the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint is enormous,” commented Jonathon Counsell, British Airways’ Head of Environment.
Counsell claims British Airways was the first to set fuel efficiency targets, which have led to gains of 28% since 1990, and is on its way to achieving a 30% improvement by 2010. The airline recently announced a further 25% improvement target on fuel efficiency by 2025 compared with 2005.
BA’s Chief Executive, Willie Walsh, has previously expressed reservations about the viability of alternative fuels for aviation purposes, and he described the Virgin Atlantic biofuel test flight in March as a “PR stunt”, which led Virgin’s President, Richard Branson, to accuse his rival of lacking both vision and an environmental strategy (see story).
Apart from the very stringent technical requirements that a potential jet biofuel must satisfy, a current problem is finding a biofuel supplier who can deliver sufficient quantities for comprehensive engine testing.
Rolls-Royce is partnering on the Air New Zealand Boeing 747 biofuel test flight later in the year in which fuel from the jatropha plant is to be blended with conventional jet fuel (see story).
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