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Global warming and air pollution in the last half century has been increasing at an alarming rate and the jet aircraft industry is taking the lead in combating this problem. Manufacturers of jets and jet engines have been very involved in building aircraft that not only reduce emissions, but also provide considerable cost savings.
Many Governments have been left with ‘no choice’ but to go ‘green’ or face the wrath of other governments who want to share their ‘green burdens’. Industries have taken mammoth steps to help stop pollution and augment the cleanup process. Heavy industries are opting for cleaner methods, while the automobile industries have started to work on emission reduction on an immense scale. The aviation industry has also been on the move, though keeping a lower profile. Nevertheless, on a significant scale a number of airlines are now entering the bio fuel market. Research by the aviation industry to source, develop, and invest in bio fuel supplies is on a momentous march towards cleaner skies.
Kicking off with the Virgin Atlantic test flight in February 2008 between London and Amsterdam, a Boeing 747 jet airliner utilized a 20% blend of bio fuel (fuel derived from coconut and babassu) in one of its engines and successfully completed the run. This sparked off a series of jet bio fueled test flights around the world. Following the footsteps of Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand managed a successful two hour test flight of a jet aircraft using bio fuel derived from Jatropha in December the same year. Test flight engineers then removed the engine to conduct studies on the effects of using bio fuel in avionics—the results from these tests are not yet available.
Not wanting to be left behind Continental Airlines ran the first flight of an algae-fueled jet. The private jet flight from Houston‘s George Bush Intercontinental Airport completed a circuit over the Gulf of Mexico. The pilots on board executed a series of tests at 38,000 feet (12,000 m), including a mid-flight engine shutdown. The Jan 2009 jet flight by Continental airlines was a complete success, citing the fact that they had tested a drop-in fuel which meant that no modification to the engine was required. The fuel was praised for having a low flash point and sufficiently low freezing point; these issues had been concerns posed by other bio-fuels that had been used for jet aviation.
Following this in April 2010 The US Navy tested the F18 fighter jet using Bio fuel obtained from Camelina and found the F18 performing as expected with no glitches. A series of tests in 2010 showed promising results including the United States Air Force’s test flight of an A 10 jet using nothing but bio fuel on all of its engines.
China, conducting one of the latest bio fuel jet flight tests also reported success with fuel by Petro China in October 2011. The flight lasting 2 hours had 50% bio fuel in one of its engine and recorded a 30% drop in carbon emission. The biggest breakthrough came with the first flight on 100% pure bio fuel that met petroleum specifications without blending. The aircraft, a Dassault 20 jet flew without any glitches on pure bio fuels.
The Aviation industry’s greenhouse gas emissions is bound to increase, as jet air travel increases and ground vehicles use more alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Currently aviation represents 2% of global emissions, but is expected to grow to 3% within the next few decades. In addition to building more fuel efficient jet aircraft and operating them more efficiently, changing the fuel source is one of the few options the aviation industry has for reducing its carbon footprint.
While solar, electric and hydrogen propelled jet planes are being researched, it is not expected they will be feasible in the near or medium term due to aviation’s need for high power-to-weight ratio elements. The aviation industry has made reducing carbon emissions and moving away from fossil fuels key strategic priorities that has shown drastic positive results.
Two companies which are making extensive use of biofuel technology in their joint effort are General Electric which manufacturer’s aircraft engines at its Sharonville, Ohio plant and Embraer, which builds aircraft. Given the tests now underway, it would be safe to say that although the aerospace industry is not making big news with biofuel, it is certainly leading the way.