Efforts to produce high-performance, unblended biofuels that can be used as drop-in replacements for petroleum-based jet fuel have taken a major step forward. The National Research Council (NRC) of Canada reported that the 100-percent non-food biofuel used in its historic October 29 test flight displayed reduced emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.
Results of additional tests showed that the unblended biofuel used on that flight in the Falcon 20 twin-engine commercial jet is just as efficient as the regular petroleum version. Remember, that's with an unmodified engine.
That flight was the first in which a civil jet flew on 100-percent biofuel that meets the performance specifications of petroleum jet fuel. Before then, biofuel used in flights consisted of blends with at least 50-percent petroleum-based fuel, all because of performance requirements.
The Falcon 20 is an NRC test aircraft. For the biofuel test flight, the Falcon flew at 30,000 feet, a typical altitude for commercial aircraft. Following close behind was a T-33, which collected information on the engine emissions produced by the oilseed-based biofuel.
Analysis of the data showed that aerosol emissions of the biofuel during flight were reduced by 50 percent compared to conventional fuel. In tests performed on a static, non-flying engine, there was a significant reduction in particles, as much as 25 percent, and a reduction of up to 49 percent in black carbon emissions. During steady-state operations, tests showed comparable engine performance between the two fuel types, and an improved fuel consumption of 1.5 percent using the biofuel. (You can access a report on test data here.)
Developed by American company Applied Research Associates (ARA) and Canada-based Agrisoma Biosciences for the commercial airline industry, the 100-percent biofuel is being developed by ARA under the name ReadiJet. The fuel was made from an industrial crop based on oilseed (Brassica carinata), a relative of mustard and canola plants. The crop is designed to grow in semi-arid regions such as the southern prairies in western Canada, where most food crops won't grow, and is now being produced on a commercial scale.
ARA and Chevron Lummus Global (CLG) came up with the Biofuels ISOCONVERSION process to produce the fuel from plants and algae. This process is based on ARA's proprietary catalytic hydrothermolysis process and CLG's hydroprocessing technology.
The resulting fuels, including ReadiJet and ReadiDiesel, can be used as drop-in replacements in existing turbine and diesel engines designed to operate on petroleum fuels. ARA says it will be less expensive than competing technologies to build and operate facilities for making fuels from the Biofuels ISOCONVERSION process, at a capital expenditure of $1 per annual production volume and operating expenses similar to the costs of petroleum refining. The process also doesn't require the use of hydrocracking or hydroisomerization, typically present in conventional fuel processing technologies.
The NRC says it will continue working to bring the fuel to market. Meanwhile, ARA is cooperating with American company Blue Sun Energy to build and operate a demonstration facility, and then move to commercial volume production of both fuels. The demonstration system's target is 100 barrels per day.
ARA and Blue Sun expect to reach prices competitive with petroleum-based fuels in 2015. That's only two years from now -- and it's also the same year the US Navy has targeted for achieving 50 percent of energy consumption from alternative sources for non-tactical uses.