Shortage of sufficient quantities of suitable biofuels halts Rolls-Royce engine testing programme
A British Airways Rolls-Royce RB211-powered 747-400
Tue 17 Mar 2009 – The biofuel programme initiated by Rolls-Royce and British Airways has been temporarily suspended after failing to find a supplier who could deliver the required 60,000 litres of alternative fuel for intensive ground testing. Rolls-Royce aimed to test up to four alternative fuels on a RB211 engine taken from one of BA’s Boeing 747 aircraft, but only three responses were forthcoming from a worldwide tender issued last July.
The tender made it clear that the second-generation biofuel had not only to meet the required technical specifications but also had to be produced without a detrimental impact on food, land or water. Of the three responses, one supplier said it could meet the sustainability criteria but could not deliver enough to conduct long-term testing, reports Point Carbon News.
Under the tender process, suppliers were invited to supply fuel samples to undergo laboratory testing first, with the successful company being asked to supply up to 60,000 litres for testing that was expected to be completed by the end of this month. Both partners had committed to making the findings public for the benefit of the industry.
Rolls-Royce, which was involved in the Air New Zealand jatropha biofuel flight late last December, had wanted to test the RB211 engine in a controlled indoor test bed environment that would enable more accurate data to be gathered than would be possible on an actual flight because additional instrumentation could be used, and performance and emissions would not be affected by other external factors.
The intensive trials, which would have taken place at Rolls-Royce’s Derby facility, would have involved the engine being powered by both ordinary kerosene and the alternative fuels, and operated through its full range of power settings, including idle, acceleration, take-off and cruise.
A British Airways source told GreenAir Online that he believed the setback was only temporary and expected at least one supplier to come forward in the near future to fulfil the requirement.
The problem, though, highlights the lack of current pilot projects capable of supplying second-generation sustainable biofuels in the required quantities for long term aero engine testing, due in part to the considerable investment necessary in potentially risky ventures.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set a target for its airline members to use a blend of 10% alternative fuels by 2017. With commercial airlines burning around 70 billion gallons of jet fuel in 2008, which is expected to fall by around 4.5% in 2009, there is likely to be a demand therefore for around 7 billion gallons of alternative fuels within nine years, depending on traffic growth after the current recession has passed and other fuel efficiency gains.
Boeing’s Managing Director of Environmental Strategy, Billy Glover, last week repeated his view that alternative aviation fuels will reach the market in three to five years.