Air Canada and NRC start research into biofuel impact on contrail formation from commercial flight operations
Tue 25 Apr 2017 – Five Air Canada biofuel-powered flights between Montreal and Toronto over the coming days will be trailed by a National Research Council of Canada (NRC) T-33 research jet using advanced sensing equipment to sample and test the contrail biofuel emissions from each aircraft. It is part of the Civil Aviation Alternative Fuel Contrail and Emissions Research (CAAFCER) project led by NRC that is studying the environmental benefits of biofuel use on contrails. Depending on suitable weather conditions required for the testing, the first of the flights could take place today. The sustainable biofuel has been produced by AltAir Fuels from used cooking oil and supplied by SkyNRG. NRC has already taken part in extensive trials of a NASA-led project in the United States to measure the impact of alternative fuels on contrails, details of which were recently published in the journal Nature. The results showed using biofuels could substantially decrease jet engine exhaust particles and so reduce climate-warming contrails.
The research being undertaken on the CAAFCER project is different, explained an Air Canada member of the project team, and will be more focused on the particle emission contrail formations that lead to cirrus cloud formation and radiative forcing. Compared to the NASA project flights, which involved test aircraft, the T-33 trailing the Air Canada commercial flights will fly further back and, importantly, bring back data that is more representative of everyday flying, she said.
Added Anthony Brown of NRC’s Flight Research Laboratory and the T-33 pilot: “We will also be obtaining contrail and emissions data in the Great Lakes atmospheric environment, a region so much under the influence of the Northern jet stream and one in which we have already measured higher growth rates of contrail ice particle sizes using our T-33.”
NRC has built up extensive experience in flight testing alternative aviation fuels. In October 2012, the agency undertook the first-ever flight of a civil jet aircraft powered by an unblended biofuel (see article). Supplied by Canadian company Agrisoma, the fuel was produced from Brassica carinata, a sustainable non-food oilseed crop grown in Western Canada.
Jerzy Komorowski, General Manager of NRC’s Aerospace portfolio believes the important CAAFCER research would further reveal the viability of biofuels. “By contributing our unique T-33 research aircraft specialising in contrail data collection and our expertise in emissions analysis, we hope to provide key information towards biofuel inclusion in all future flights.”
Although details have not yet been released, the biofuel blend to be used by the Air Canada flights will be the highest possible that can be certified, said the airline, possibly between 40-45%. The aircraft will be defueled of conventional fuel before being uplifted with the biofuel blend into both engines. The project is not aircraft or engine dependent and the likelihood is the flights will involve Airbus A320 family aircraft as that is the most commonly used on the route by the airline.
“We are pleased to support Canada’s research on the additional benefits of aviation biofuel. This project is an important step in furthering the industry’s understanding of how biofuel reduces aviation’s carbon footprint and overall environmental impact,” said Teresa Ehman, Director, Environmental Affairs at Air Canada. “Air Canada recognises its environmental responsibilities and the importance of understanding and integrating environmental considerations into our business decisions.”
The CAAFCER project involves six stakeholder organisations, with primary funding from the Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN), a non-profit organisation funded by the Business-Led Network of Centres of Excellence of the Government of Canada and the Canadian aerospace industry. It also has further financial support from NRC and the enabling support of Air Canada ground and flight operations. Other partners in the project include Boeing, SkyNRG, University of Alberta and Waterfall.
Air Canada and NRC are also participating in Canada’s Biojet Supply Chain Initiative (CBSCI), a three-year collaborative project, also primarily funded by GARDN, which started in 2015 and is aiming to introduce 400,000 litres of sustainable aviation biofuel into the shared fuel system at Montreal Airport and create a Canadian supply chain of sustainable fuels using renewable feedstocks (see article).
Update Tue 25 Apr:
The first flight took place today as planned. NRC’s Anthony Brown reported excellent results were obtained by the T-33 trailing an Air Canada Airbus A320 biofuel flight from Montreal to Toronto, which measured persistent and spreading contrail. The second flight is anticipated on Thursday.