First Civil Jet Flies on 100 Percent Non-Food Biofuel
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)
Ann, aviation fuels are the purest form of crude oil with a higher cost. So any alternate to crude oil based aviation fuel will have a greater impact on aviation sector. What about the cost factor?, if cost is less than crude oil, then obliviously it will helpful for the low cost carriers.
Ann, I find it interesting that Canada is looking at these crops. They generally only grow in tropical, or semi-tropical, regions. One that I am familiar with is jatropha. While it is being used, and is touted as a plant that can be turned into aviation fuel, its impact is very small.
Another issue with any crop that is grown on land is that, although the crop is not a food crop, it can compete with food crops for land. Algae and seaweed do not have this problem.
Lou, it's not tropical areas where these Brassica plants and their relatives grow, which would be much too moist, but arid and semi-arid regions, many of which are near the equator. Brassica carinata, the one described in the article, is also called Ethiopian mustard, for instance. A variety of wild mustard even grows in the foothills of the San Francisco Bay Area every spring on very poor, dry, non-irrigated soil used for horse and cattle pastures. The point is, it does not compete with agricultural crops, which aren't grown, or likely to be grown, on the same poor soil where the Brassica grows. There are several species with these characteristics being considered or used for biofuel.
Mydesign, specific prices were not mentioned, but the fact that this is a crop being grown industrially in large quantities bodes well. Applied Research Associates says the ReadiJet fuel is "low cost" due to the catalytic hydrothermolysis process, http://www.ara.com/fuels/CH-Technology-Status.html which "provides a net cost savings compared to straight hydrotreating and hydrocracking processes. The cost savings result from the reduction of hydrogen and catalyst cost consumption and the production of high-value chemicals." To me, what's most important is the fact that this fuel's performance is good enough to work unblended.
Ann, thanks for the clarfiication. By tropic I mean the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, not necessarily a wet area. This is where a lot of, but not all, of the type of land that might be useful for this crop. It still doen not correspond with any area of Canada, which is interesting. They have plenty of oil and lots of land. I would have thought they would be looking at crops appropriate to their climate.
Lou, thanks for the clarification. The fact that not all semi-arid areas are found between those two Tropics plus the fact that wild mustard grows in semi-arid areas in the SF Bay Area tells us that the plant family can grow wild outside of the "tropics" as you've defined them. Even more likely when engineered by humans in one way or another. Maize (corn) is a perfect example: it began as a radically different plant in Mexico and several hundreds of years later was cultivated in astonishing variety all the way from the tropics to the Northern Plains. So I'm not sure why you conclude that this plant is not suited to the Canadian climate.
Nice article, Ann. This test flight is good news no matter where the biofuel comes from. It's a step is a positive direction. Different crop growers will experiment with crops that match efficiency and regulation as they move on and expand biofuels programs.
As Mydesign asked earlier, what's the cost? Fuel cost is an airline's biggest expense. How much will these biofuels save them? If there's no savings, there's no way they will adopt its use. I hope taxpayers won't have to subsidise this like the current $2.21/gal hidden tax we're getting stuck with using ethenol blends in our cars.
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.
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... :)
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