The first civil jet to fly on 100 percent biofuel that meets petroleum jet fuel specifications took to the skies Oct. 29 in Ottawa, Ontario. Other commercial jets, such as Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, have flown using biofuel blended with petroleum-based jet fuel. But this flight, engineered by the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, is the first worldwide to use unblended biofuel in a commercial, non-military aircraft (a Falcon 20), according to the NRC.
First-generation biofuels based on crops have been under fire for some time because of their competition with human food and animal feed. Recently, the European Commission (EC) called for even stricter limits on the amount of food crops that can be turned into biofuels used in transportation. The EC is also promoting the use of second- and third-generation biofuels produced from algae, straw, and waste feedstocks.
Canada's National Research Council and the Canadian Space Agency have used the Falcon 20 jet, with modified hydraulic and aircraft fuel systems, for performing parabolic flight maneuvers in microgravity experiments. (Source: Canadian Space Agency)
The biofuel used in the flight is not based on a food crop. Instead, it was made from oilseed (Brassica carinata), a mustard and canola relative, developed by Applied Research Associates and Agrisoma Biosciences for the commercial airline industry. The fuel, called ReadiJet, was transformed by Applied Research Associates and Chevron Lummus Global. Applied Research Associates says it has developed a new proprietary process, catalytic hydrothermolysis, to produce the fuel from plants and algae. According to the company, the fuels can be used in existing turbine and diesel engines designed for petroleum fuels.
Agrisoma Bioscience Inc. has commercialized the industrial oilseed crop as Resonance Energy Feedstock. It's designed to grow in semi-arid regions, such as the southern prairies in western Canada, and is now being produced on a commercial scale. This year, more than 40 commercial farmers will grow the crop on more than 6,000 acres to make the biofuel. Agrisoma said in a press release that, to date, flights on biofuels have used blends with, at most, 50 percent biofuel combined with petroleum-based jet fuel.
The Falcon 20 aircraft that flew on the biofuel is a twin-engine commercial jet used by the National Research Council for conducting experiments. For example, the aircraft's hydraulic and fuel systems have been modified so it can perform parabolic flight maneuvers to achieve zero gravity for 15 to 25 seconds. The Falcon 20 also provides electrical power and data acquisition systems.
In the recent test flight, the Falcon 20 was followed by a T-33 jet aircraft, which collected information on the emissions produced by the oilseed-based biofuel. The NRC's research scientists will analyze this data to gauge the fuel's environmental impact.
Preliminary results are expected in the next few weeks. The research project is funded by the Canadian government's Clean Transportation Initiatives, and the Green Aviation and Development Network.
Excellent Post Ann. I think this is a great step in the right direction. Every engineer realizes we are years away, if ever, from eliminating our complete dependence upon fossil fuels BUT, advances such as this can insure we maintain usable quantities for future generations. Finding a suitable substitute for food grade biomass is truly a significant breakthrough. As with every thing else, I suspect the cost will lessen as time goes by the technology to improve yields will increase. Again--great article.
Thanks for clarifying, jhankwitz. What will get costs down is higher volumes, which means we have to start somewhere. I think this is one of those areas where government can help, and apparently the Canadians (and Europeans) agree.
jhankwitz, I don't know where you live, but I'm in California, with the highest gasoline costs in the nation. While I'd rather not pay more for anything--who would?--I pay more for gasoline without complaint knowing that we are meeting higher standards for clean air.
This is great news! Advancements in bio fuel are the way forward for reducing dependence on oil and running cleaner vehicles across the board. Bravo to the airline industry for doing this type of research. I personally hope it leads to more success in the future and eventually the predominant use of this kind of biofuel. Thanks for covering.
I agree, Ann. The whole business of creating biofuels will likely go through many permutations before the industry settles on a few paths that are efficient and meet evolving regulations. This test, however, is just one more indication that there will be a significant biofuel industry.
Zippy, the smell of french fries may be prevalent in recycled cooking oil from restaurants used in cars with converted engines, but it's got nothing to do with commercial biofuels. Biofuels are derived from specifically grown crops, food-based or otherwise, produced with a variety of processes. To date, the main reasons biofuels have been blended with petro-based fuels have been a) performance and b) cost.
Ann, outside of the potential cost and availability issues, are there any technical reasons that a biofuel cannot be substituted 100% for aviation purposes? Other than the pervasive smell of french fries at the airports, of course... :)
Thanks, Rob. I think regardless of any other factors or considerations, the fact that this jet flew successfully on 100% biofuel is a very encouraging development. The jump from 30 to 50% in blends to 100% is insanely high, and a major first.
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