Biofuels for Business Aviation

 - February 27, 2009, 8:07 AM

As concern for the environment gathers urgency, a number of manufacturers are studying the use of biofuels, which they consider a low-CO2 alternative to petroleum-based fuels.

Will biofuels come to business aviation? Yes, according to Ron Rich, Honeywell’s director of advanced technology. In short, if they are suitable for aviation, they are suitable for business aviation. Honeywell subsidiary UOP, which specializes in refining, has developed technology to convert natural oils and greases into fuel for military jets. “There is more to come in the near future,” he predicted.

Mike Bevans, the company’s manager for technical sales, said Honeywell has yet to see requests for biofuel capability in the technical requirements it gets from business jet manufacturers. “Biofuels can be developed to work in business aviation engines, although business aviation will likely follow the airline industry in adopting them,” he predicted. Honeywell engineers expect to extrapolate current biofuel work on APU combustors to business jet engines.

Shawn O’Day, GE’s marketing leader for business and general aviation, agreed that the future is bright for the development of biofuels. GE has been involved in testing biofuels on CFM56 and CF6 engines. Virgin Atlantic flew one of its Boeing 747s on a short-haul flight with one CF6 engine fed by a biofuel made from babassu and coconut oil.

The current focus is on finding environmentally acceptable biofuels. Early ones, such as ethanol, still compete with food in agriculture. In January, Continental Airlines operated a Boeing 737-800 using a blend of 50 percent jet fuel and 50 percent biofuel. The latter was derived from algae (2.5 percent) and jatropha plant (47.5 percent) oils to power the number-two CFM56-7B engine. The left engine, fed only by jet fuel, burned 5 percent more fuel than the right one. Jatropha grows in arid areas and is thus said to be a viable source for biofuel.