With increasing oil prices and mounting environmental concerns, the aircraft industry is investing more and more time and money into researching alternative aviation fuels. Here are just a few examples of more eco-friendly alternatives to hydrocarbon based propulsion.
In spring 2011, a research team at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California tested a renewable biofuel which was made from rendered animal fat. The results were positive with the fuel, made from chicken and beef tallow, producing 90% less black carbon emissions when idling and up to 60% percent less on takeoff. The animal fat biofuel also produced significantly lower sulphate, organic aerosol and other hazardous emissions which are associated with standard jet fuel.
Many people are backing pond scum, or Algae as it is more commonly referred to, as the next big thing. These tiny biological organisms transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy using photosynthesis. So efficient are these micro marvels they can actually double their weight several times a day and, as part of the photosynthesis process, produce oil which can be used to make fuel. In theory, Algae growth could actually be improved when fed extra carbon dioxide or even sewage, thus helping to clean up other problems whilst growing. Trials have been carried out using algae aviation biofuel by Air New Zealand, Virgin Airlines and the U.S. military.
Jatropha is a poisonous and rather smelly subtropical plant which is also known as ‘black vomit nut’ or ‘bellyache bush.’ Banned in Australia due to it’s invasiveness and toxicity this strange ‘weed’ could be set to offer a serious alternative to aviation fuel with both Air New Zealand and Continental Airlines completing successful trials using the fuel in recent years. Resistant to both drought and pests, and producing up to 40% oil from each seed, Jatropha has the potential to produce as much as 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel
each year from just a single acre.
NASA is just one of many research groups who have being testing synthetic fuels as an alternative to aviation fuel. The synthetic petroleum is produced using the Fischer- Tropsch process which is a chemical reaction where a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen is converted into liquid hydrocarbons. Whilst still in testing, early trials have been promising with synthetic fuels producing fewer harmful emissions than regular aviation fuel. It is hoped that these non-petroleum alternatives could help to satisfy the growing demand for less expensive, more eco-friendly fuel. The other major benefit is that, unlike biofuels, synthetic fuel can easily be use to power today’s aircrafts, with little or no modification required.
Hydrogen is another possible alternative to traditional hydrocarbon based propulsion. One of the biggest advantages of using hydrogen is that jet engines would require relatively little modification. The difficult part is storing the fuel as liquid hydrogen needs to be stored at -424 degrees and, although lighter, it takes up much more space than regular fuel, meaning airplanes would need to be redesigned in order to store it. Ecologically speaking hydrogen is a great fuel, as the only bi-product of burning it, is water. However this could also be its down fall as many worry that planes powered by hydrogen could end up becoming unpredictable cloud-making machines.
Guest post was written by Ally Biring on behalf of Hotel Club.