EADS undertakes first aircraft flight powered by algae-derived biofuel and signs Brazilian production venture
EADS' Diamond Aircraft algae biofuel demonstration flight at ILA Air Show, Berlin (photo: EADS)
Thu 17 June 2010 – The first public flights of an aircraft with an engine fully powered by algae-derived biofuel took place last week during the ILA Air Show in Berlin. The demonstration flights of a twin-engined Diamond DA42 NG light aircraft was undertaken as part of an ongoing project led by EADS Innovation Works, the research and technology arm of European aerospace manufacturer EADS. Due to the higher energy content of the algae biofuel, with the flight tests involving one engine using 100 percent biofuel and the other conventional jet kerosene, showed that fuel consumption of the biofuel is 1.5 litres per hour lower, equivalent to fuel savings of 5-10 percent.
During the air show, EADS, its helicopter division Eurocopter and Argentina-based Biocombustibles del Chubut, which supplied the algae biofuel for the flights, signed a cooperative agreement to evaluate the creation of an aviation biofuel production facility in Brazil.
“Our pure biofuel flight from algae is a world first and an exciting milestone in our research at EADS,” said Dr Jean Botti, Chief Technical Officer. “This opens up the feasibility of carbon-neutral flights and we will continue to focus our research in this exciting area. Third-generation biofuels are more than just a replacement for fossil petroleum – they push the possibilities of future propulsion.”
The four-seater DA42 Next Generation (NG) aircraft is equipped with twin 170 hp Austro Engine AE-300 jet-fuel powered turbo-diesel powerplants. EADS says only relatively minor modifications and adjustments were required to the engines to qualify the algae biofuel for the demonstration flights.
Exhaust gas measurements have indicated the algae biofuel contains eight times less hydrocarbons than crude oil-derived kerosene. In addition, levels of nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide content are considerably lower in the biofuel, with up to 40% less nitrogen oxides and around 10 ppm of sulphur oxides compared with 600 ppm in conventional jet kerosene.
According to EADS, microalgae create at least 30 times more biomass per cultivation area than, for example, rapeseed and as they can be grown on poor quality land using non-potable or salt water, their cultivation does not compete with food production. To replace 10% of the world’s kerosene needs in 2025-30 would require 100,000 sq. km of jatropha farming compared with 6,000 sq. km of algae beds, says the company. Because the growth of algae requires high amounts of CO2, they can be grown in industrial plants near CO2-emitting factories, thus also eliminating the need to transport large quantities of second-generation biomass like jatropha.
EADS said its research showed that all the necessary technologies to develop the production of biofuel from algae are known, but industrial scale and economy require further development. Hence the company’s agreement to explore and evaluate aviation biofuel production in Brazil.
“EADS understands the importance of working with all elements of the value chain in developing biofuels as an alternate to fossil fuels used in aviation,” said Botti.
Commenting on the agreement, Marcelo González Machin, President of BioCombustibles del Chubut, said: “This is the first step in changing the future of aviation as we know it today. Furthermore, through the production of this biofuel, the EADS Group will start a very significant social and productive change worldwide. It will be a revolutionary change, not only for the massive reductions in CO2 emissions that it is to provide, but also for the production system that it will establish.”
The three partners will perform feasibility studies using microalgae farming to produce aviation-grade biofuel and will also assess the possibility of helicopter flight tests with the biofuel. A subsequent step, said EADS, could be the development of a full-scale biofuel production plant in Brazil if technical and economic conditions are met.