NASA has begun a set of flight tests of biofuels based on nonfood plants to determine their emissions and performance effects on jet engines. The tests started Feb. 28 using NASA's DC-8 aircraft, which was outfitted as a laboratory and was tracked by a Falcon HU-25 equipped with instrumentation.
The biofuel is based on the camelina plant, a relative of mustard and canola. It's also a relative of oilseed, the basis of the 100 percent nonfood jet fuel used by Canada's National Research Council last fall to power a Falcon 20 civil jet. (See: First Civil Jet Flies on 100 Percent Non-Food Biofuel .) Camelina oil is a commercial crop, and the EPA has just approved its use as a low-carbon feedstock under the Renewable Fuel Standard Program.
NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory will be followed by an HU-25 Falcon measuring the contrail's chemical contents to compare the environmental effects of standard JP-8 jet fuel and a blend that includes nonfood plant-based biofuel. (Source: NASA/Eddie Winstead)
NASA's tests, expected to continue for about three weeks, are being conducted under the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) project run jointly by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, its Langley Research Center in Virginia, and its Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. The tests will be conducted primarily at Edwards Air Force Base. The DC-8 will fly at altitudes of up to 40,000 feet, and the Falcon HU-25 will follow it at distances from 300 feet to more than 10 miles.
The tests will compare emissions, performance, and contrails generated by the aircraft using two different fuels: standard JP-8 jet fuel and a blend of equals parts JP-8 and camelina oil-based fuel. The primary aim is to determine the effects of the different fuels on the environment. The DC-8, based at NASA's Dryden facility, has been modified to support the Airborne Science mission. NASA has used the aircraft for research such as testing prototype satellite instruments, verifying data received from satellites, receiving telemetry data from space vehicles while they are launched or during re-entry, and investigating surface and atmosphere conditions on Earth.
The ACCESS program is being conducted under the aegis of NASA's Fixed Wing Project, part of the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. Next year, NASA plans to perform more extensive ACCESS flight tests based on data gathered from these flights.
Alternative fuels are not a new field for NASA. The agency studied alternatives with ground-based instruments in 2009 and 2011. Past research has looked at fuels based on algae and chicken fat.
Thanks for the clarification. I agree that it's good to see some useful and practical R&D coming out of the agency. I can imagine that it's taken quite awhile to recover from not only the staffing cuts, but what they represented in terms of institutional knowledge lost.
Whet I ment by wasteful PR is a waste of time that NASA is spending on glorifying the contribution of other nations to space exploration. The waste of time to be politically correct. If we compare new developments coming out from NASA now to lets say 15 years ago, it is not even close. They lost huge number or engineers and scientists during the cuts of 2 and 3 years ago. I still remember that they coul not find the engineering team to fix the oxygen problem on the space station because they were let go three month earlier. !!!!
Im happy to see some movement on the development side from NASA.
sensor pro, not sure what you mean by wasteful PR. The OMEGA project was not just PR--it was real R&D and had some good results. Although I don't believe it was aimed at jet fuel, whereas this one is. Or did you mean something else?
Mydesign, this one is based on the camelina plant, as we say in the article. It's another relative of mustard and canola, in the Brassica family of plants, and also related to the oilseed plant the Canadians are using in a 100% biofuel jet fuel. The NASA fuel being tested, however, is a 50-50 blend with regular, petro-based JP-8 jet fuel.
You're probably right, Mydesign, but hey, whatever works. As long as they are researching ways to replace gasoline and oil-based fuels with more environmentally friendly, fuel-efficient options, it's all the kind of work that needs to be done, and quickly.
Ann, that's good initiative from NASA, a pioneer in R&D. I think most of such innovations are coming from NASA and various other defence labs. Once after proving the technology, it's finally transferring to public for addressing common issues. Any idea what's are the ingredients of bio fuel?
Ah well, yes, much better to focus on something that might actually become a widely used biofuel in the future. It's good to see NASA focusing like that. Not surprising they are being a bit hush hush about the whole thing. It is NASA, after all. Will definitely look forward to future developments here.
You're welcome, Elizabeth. I know the military has done research in this area, as you'/ve covered for DN, but the only NASA work I'd seen before this was the OMEGA algae biofuel project. They seem to be playing it pretty close to the vest regarding what they are or aren't planning to actually use, or why they choose one plant source over the other. But the fact that the EPA just listed this one as a qualifier under the RFS program indicates to me that they may be moving from the wide range of R&D to working on stuff that's got a higher probability of being used.
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