NASA has completed its first round of flight tests for a jet biofuel based on the nonfood plant camelina. Though the final results aren't yet available, project scientists have reported that emissions produced using the biofuel were reduced compared to emissions from conventional jet fuel.
As we've reported, NASA began the tests on Feb. 28 to determine the fuel's emissions and its effects on jet engine performance. The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions project is being run jointly by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; and its Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. The tests were conducted primarily at the Dryden facility.
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This photo, taken from a heavily instrumented HU-25C Falcon, shows the exhaust contrails from a DC-8 flying laboratory. NASA is testing the plane's emissions and performance as it flies on standard jet fuel and on a biofuel blend. (Source: NASA/Eddie Winstead)
The tests used a specially modified DC-8 aircraft that's been fitted out as a laboratory. A Falcon HU-25C trailed the DC-8 and measured its emissions, performance, and contrails for more than 15 hours. About 20 instruments sampled various characteristics of the gases, soot, and ice particles emitted by the DC-8. Two different fuels were tested: standard JP-8 jet fuel and a blend of 50 percent JP-8 jet fuel and 50 percent camelina oil-based fuel. Emissions were recorded at different altitudes, different distances between the planes, and different engine power settings. Four more hours of tests were completed on the ground.
Initial analysis indicates that the biofuel blend cut black carbon ground emissions by more than 30 percent, but in-air results aren't yet clear. The plant-based fuel's effects on contrail formation also aren't yet clear. According to a press release, the next stage of the project will be conducted next year with a broader range of measurements.
The EPA recently approved camelina, a commercial crop, as a low-carbon feedstock qualifying under the Renewable Fuel Standard. The plant is a relative of mustard, canola, and oilseed. Canada's National Research Council used oilseed in the first flight of a commercial jet powered by a 100 percent biofuel that meets petroleum jet fuel's performance specifications. Analysis of test results from that flight showed that the fuel was just as efficient as the regular petroleum version in an unmodified engine. The biofuel produced 50 percent fewer aerosol emissions.
We've also told you about KLM Royal Dutch Airlines making its first weekly commercial transatlantic flight with jets that run on a biofuel blend derived from used cooking oil. Not to be outdone, China Eastern Airlines has run its first test flight using biofuel. An Airbus A320 flew on fuel developed by the Chinese oil refiner Sinopec using palm oil and used cooking oil.
That's a really good point, rrietz, I didn't even think of that. But the emisions from creating a fuel also count so those stats would be good to know as agencies and companies begin to choose bio fuels.
Part of the emissions cost of any fuel is the emissions created during its production and distribution. It would be interesting to compare the total emissions for both traditional petroleum products and non-traditional products such as bio-fuel.
Agree with nadine that those are good questions, Al...am curious about the answers. It's my understanding that a lot of this is in the testing phase, although there have been some long-haul biofuel flights accomplished by airliners and I think the airline industry may be a bit further ahead. But Ann can correct me if I'm wrong?
Ann, Do you have any idea from your interviews on where biofuel technology is in the development process? Is this part of an early testing phase, and do you think the impetus for the work is reduced emissions or other goals? Thanks.
Thanks for the continued coverage of this, Ann. Seems like there are a lot of unanswered questions yet but at least the preliminary results are positive. I didn't know much about this type of biofuel before NASA began testing it so if it goes well perhaps it will become a more widely used option in both tests and even commercial flights. Seems like it's headed that way already.
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