Advertisement Advertisement

New NASA-led study confirms biofuels reduce jet engine pollution

Using biofuels to help power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 percent, a new NASA-led international study has found.

The DC-8's four engines burned either JP-8 jet fuel or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and renewable alternative fuel. 0 blend of JP-8 and renewable alternative fuel (photo courtesy NASA/SSAI Edward Winstead).

The DC-8’s four engines burned either JP-8 jet fuel or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and renewable alternative fuel. 0 blend of JP-8 and renewable alternative fuel (photo courtesy NASA/SSAI Edward Winstead).

A new international study led by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has found that using biofuels to help power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 percent, in a new study conclusion that

The findings bode well for airline economics and the environment and are the result of a cooperative international research program led by NASA and involving agencies from Germany and Canada and are detailed in a study “Biofuel blending reduces particle emissions from aircraft engines at cruise conditions” published in the journal Nature.

Particle reduction

During flight tests in 2013 and 2014 near NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California (CA), data was collected on the effects of alternative fuels on engine performance, emissions and aircraft-generated contrails at altitudes flown by commercial airliners. The test series were part of the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions Study, or ACCESS.

Contrails are produced by hot aircraft engine exhaust mixing with the cold air that is typical at cruise altitudes several miles above Earth’s surface and primarily composed of water in the form of ice crystals.

Researchers are most interested in persistent contrails because they create long-lasting, and sometimes extensive, clouds that would not normally form in the atmosphere, and are believed to be a factor in influencing Earth’s environment.

Important finding

– Soot emissions also are a major driver of contrail properties and their formation. As a result, the observed particle reductions we’ve measured during ACCESS should directly translate into reduced ice crystal concentrations in contrails, which in turn should help minimize their impact on Earth’s environment, said Bruce Anderson, ACCESS project scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia (VA).

This is a significant finding as contrails, and the cirrus clouds that evolve from them, have a larger impact on Earth’s atmosphere than all the aviation-related carbon dioxide emissions since the first powered flight by the Wright brothers.

The tests involved flying NASA’s workhorse DC-8 as high as 40,000 feet (≈ 12.1 km) while its four engines burned a 50-50 blend of aviation fuel and a renewable alternative fuel of hydro-processed esters and fatty acids produced from camelina plant oil. A trio of research aircraft took turns flying behind the DC-8 at distances ranging from 300 feet (≈ 91 m) to more than 20 miles (≈ 32 km) to take measurements on emissions and study contrail formation as the different fuels were burned.

– This was the first time we have quantified the amount of soot particles emitted by jet engines while burning a 50-50 blend of biofuel in flight, said Rich Moore, lead author of the Nature report.

The trailing aircraft included NASA’s HU-25C Guardian jet based at Langley, a Falcon 20-E5 jet owned by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and a CT-133 jet provided by the National Research Council of Canada.

– Measurements in the wake of aircraft require highly experienced crew members and proven measuring equipment, which DLR has built up over many years. Since 2000, the DLR Falcon has been used in numerous measurement campaigns to investigate the emissions and contrails of commercial airliners, said report co-author Hans Schlager of the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics.

Researchers plan on continuing these studies to understand and demonstrate the potential benefits of replacing current fuels in aircraft with biofuels. It’s NASA’s goal to demonstrate biofuels on its proposed supersonic X-plane.

We're using cookies. Read more