Canadian researchers to carry out first-ever civil aircraft test flight to use 100 per cent jet biofuel
NRC's Falcon 20 test aircraft (photo: NRC)
Tue 2 Oct 2012 – A joint initiative involving the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is paving the way for the first-ever civil aircraft flight to use 100 per cent unblended jet biofuel. A twin-engined Falcon 20 aircraft belonging to NRC will use fuel derived from Canadian-grown Brassica carinata supplied by Agrisoma Biosciences. The Resonance brand industrial oilseed non-food crop is ideally suited for production in semi-arid regions such as the Canadian southern Prairies, says Agrisoma. More than 40 commercial growers in Western Canada were contracted this year to grow over 6,000 acres (2,400ha) of the crop that will be used to create the fuel for the engine performance and emissions flight testing. Canada’s first revenue biofuel flight conducted by Porter Airlines in April used a blend that contained one per cent of fuel made from Agrisoma’s feedstock.
Other partners in the project include Applied Research Associates (ARA), Chevron Lummus Global, the Government of Canada’s Clean Transportation Initiatives and the Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN).
“This is a perfect example of how industry and government work together to bridge the gap between Canadian innovation and commercialisation,” said Dr Roman Szumski, Vice-President for Life Sciences at NRC.
Commented Dr Steven Fabijanski, President & CEO of Agrisoma: “NRC’s expertise across many technology areas and their first-class flight research services are helping us to complete the validation cycle of Resonance. The upcoming flight will showcase Resonance-based biofuels as a viable alternative for the aviation industry.”
The company says the vigorous crop has been specifically developed for production on marginal ground in the brown soil zone regions of western Canada, with good resistance to biotic and abiotic stressors, excellent harvestability, as well as good lodging and shatter resistance. Trials have shown it to deliver oil content of 44% with yields that deliver attractive economics for growers.
The biofuel, under the brand name ReadiJet, has been produced by ARA under contract to the US Air Force Research Laboratory using technology developed by ARA and Chevron Lummus Global (CLG). ARA says its Catalytic Hydrothermolysis (CH) process mimics nature’s way of converting biomass to petroleum crude. While nature’s processes take millions of years, it takes minutes for the CH process to turn plant oils into a high-quality crude oil intermediate, claims the company.
The process uses water at high temperature and pressure to both crack and cyclise plant or algal oils into compounds that are ideal for jet and diesel fuels, reports ARA. The technology does not depend on conventional hydrocracking processes, is less expensive to build and operate, does not require hydrocracking catalysts and the CH crude oil requires less hydrogen for refining into finished fuels, adds the company.
ARA, which has a US patent on the process, says the technology has been proven in mature pilot systems.
CLG’s ISOCONVERSION catalysts upgrade the intermediate into on-specification, finished drop-in fuels that are fungible and nearly identical to petroleum derived fuels.
The ReadiJet fuel is tailored to meet all commercial and military jet fuel specifications, says ARA, which will test the fuel with NRC against ASTM and military specifications and evaluate it in ground-based tests before the Falcon 20 test flight.
The NRC Falcon 20 will be trailed during the test flight by a T-33 aircraft equipped to measure in-flight emissions, allowing for later evaluation of the fuel’s emissions performance.
“The integrated ARA/CLG ISOCONVERSION process and Agrisoma’s Resonance feedstock provide a pathway for fulfilling the commercial and military markets’ requirements for alternative fuels at parity with petroleum while spurring opportunities for farmers,” said Chuck Red, ARA’s Alternative Fuels Program Lead. “We look forward to this partnership with NRC to help us validate the combination of Canadian developed and grown feedstocks and our processing technology as a leading alternative fuel solution.”