Canada’s NRC Makes Milestone Biofuel Flight

 - December 2, 2012, 2:10 AM
The National Research Council of Canada recently flew a Falcon 20 powered exclusively by unblended biofuel. A T-33 followed the aircraft, collecting data about the biofuel’s emissions.

Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) achieved a milestone in the quest for adoption of biofuels when it made the first flight by a civil jet powered by 100-percent unblended biofuel. At the end of October, the NRC’s Dassault Falcon 20 made the historic flight over Ottawa, burning a new biofuel known as ReadiJet, derived from Brassica carinata, an inedible oilseed crop provided by feedstock producer Agrisoma Biosciences.

According to Stewart Baillie, director of the NRC’s flight research laboratory, during the one-hour flight the twinjet–specially equipped with engine sensors and a modified fuel routing system–took off with both engines burning standard jet-A, and then at cruise altitude switched first one engine to the biofuel from a separate auxiliary tank, and then the other, with both engines burning the new fuel simultaneously for approximately 10 minutes at 30,000 feet. One engine was then switched back to jet-A, while the other then performed an uneventful in-flight shutdown and relight on the biofuel. A T-33 equipped with under-wing sensors followed in the wake of the Falcon, sampling its exhaust emissions. The crew observed “little if any difference from fossil fuels,” said Baillie. “Despite the significance of the event it was a non-event, which is good from a flight-test perspective.” The results from the emissions analysis will be available later this month.

Previously civil aircraft have flown on biofuel blends, with the “green” component mixed at up to 50 percent with standard jet fuel to compensate for the typical absence of aromatic content in biofuels. Aromatics are required to lubricate fuel system seals, but Panama City, Fla.-based Applied Research Associates (ARA) developed a new patented catalytic hydrothermolysis (CH) process that can convert any non-edible oil directly into hydrocarbons to produce “next generation” drop-in jet and diesel fuels, “It’s just pretty much one step that converts the long-chain fatty acids into the aromatic compounds and straight-chain paraffins that make up a very similar distribution of hydrocarbons that you get in petroleum fuels,” said Chuck Red, ARA’s program manager for biofuels. Testing of the new fuel in the NRC Falcon 20’s tanks demonstrated no aromatic-based problems, according to Baillie.

While ARA has produced ReadiJet in limited quantities for testing purposes, it is partnering with Chevron Lummus to break ground by the end of the year on a CH demonstration plant to produce approximately 4,000 gallons of the new fuel a day for large-scale testing, leading to eventual approval by the ASTM. With its aromatic content, the new fuel differs enough from the previously endorsed synthetic jet fuels that it will require its own classification as HEFA synthetic kerosene with aromatics (SKA) under ASTM D7566 standards. “I think we have a pretty good shot at getting our certification by next December,” Red told AIN.