Research study shows that biofuel blends used in demonstration flights performed as effectively as jet fuel
(photo: Japan Airlines)
Fri 19 Jun 2009 – Boeing and its industry partners involved in the three recent biofuel demonstration flights have released the high-level elements of a study, ‘Evaluation of Bio-Derived Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (Bio-SPK)’, in which analysis shows that the sustainable biofuels used in the flights performed favourably in comparison to petroleum-based fuels. The Bio-SPK – the industry’s new terminology – fuel blends demonstrated higher energy density per unit mass than typical jet fuel, potentially enabling airplanes to travel further using less fuel. The blended fuel on the Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines flights displayed no adverse effects on any of the aircraft systems.
According to the study – which has been endorsed by Boeing, fuel technology developer UOP, engine makers GE, CFM, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, together with the three airlines plus Virgin Atlantic – the Bio-SPK blends also met or exceeded the technical parameters for commercial jet aviation fuel concerning freezing point, flash point and viscosity, among others.
“These are very gratifying results,” said Bill Glover, Managing Director of Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Everyone on the team – and across the industry – is working hard to make sustainable biofuels a real solution for reducing the carbon footprint of aviation, and these results move us closer to that goal.”
During a presentation at the Paris Air Show earlier this week, Glover said a comprehensive research report was being prepared by Boeing, in cooperation with UOP and the US Air Force Research Laboratory, for submittal to the ASTM International fuel approval process, which he anticipated would be successfully achieved in 2010. The report, he said, would spur efforts to gain approval to use Bio-SPK fuel at up to a 50% blend in support of industry goals to accelerate availability and use.
Glover said Boeing would be working with industry on regional biofuel commercialization projects and continuing with life-cycle analysis to verify the sustainability of feedstocks and methods.
The report being prepared for the ASTM International Aviation Fuel Committee, will follow the guideline outlined in the revised ASTM D4054 document, ‘Standard Practice for Qualification and Approval of New Aviation Turbine Fuels and Fuel Additives’. Reporting for other fuel specifications will be made as required, says the study.
The majority of fit-for-purpose and auxiliary power unit (APU) engine and combustion rig tests have now been completed, in addition to emissions evaluation. The study’s authors, Dr James D. Kinder and Timothy Rahmes of Boeing’s Sustainable Biofuels Research & Technology Program, say data is currently being gathered from these tests for inclusion in the ASTM report along with the data generated from the Bio-SPK flight test programme. Preliminary examination of the results of those tests is extremely encouraging, they say.
During the Paris Air Show, which has been taking place during this week, Honeywell Aerospace announced that it had completed testing of an algae/jatropha blended jet fuel on a Honeywell 131-9 APU and TFE 731-5 turbofan engine and found the results compared favourably with traditional jet fuels. An APU is a small gas-powered turbine engine that provides bleed air for main engine starting and electrical power for cockpit and galley systems. The 131-9 is the most commonly used APU for single-aisle commercial transport aircraft. The TFE 731-5 powers a variety of medium and large business jet aircraft.
The fuel blend was supplied by fellow Honeywell subsidiary, UOP. In the UOP process, hydrogen is added to remove oxygen from the biological feedstock resulting in a high quality, bio-derived fuel that blends seamlessly with petroleum-based fuel and acts as a drop-in replacement.
“Our technology produces biofuels that perform as well as or better than their petroleum-based alternatives and leverage the existing fuel infrastructure and fleet technology to lower capital costs and simplify adoption,” said Jennifer Holmgren, General Manager of UOP Renewable Energy and Chemicals.
According to a report in Biofuels Digest, Holmgren confirmed that UOP expects to commence licensing its fuel technology at the end of this summer, and said that it has already commenced advanced discussions with multiple potential licensees.
She said that it was modelling future refineries for renewable jet fuel using a 60-150 million gallons per year scale, and said that while this was only a fraction of the typical 4.2 billion gallons per year scale of a typical oil refinery, the size was the most effective given the expected supply chain for renewable jet fuel feedstocks. Holmgren said that it was possible to ‘green field’ the proposed refineries or, better, construct them adjacent to existing chemical plants or existing refineries to utilize similar support infrastructure. UOP said that it expects the cost of refineries to be in the $150 million range.