WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Students and faculty at Purdue
University are working to take biofuel use in aviation to new heights.
A faculty-and-student duo piloted the Purdue Embrarer Phenom
100 to the recent Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture, one of the
largest international plane shows.
One of the airplane’s engines was filled with typical jet
fuel, and the other was filled with a biofuel blend. The plane was flown from
the Purdue airport to Oshkosh, Wis.
“There have been many demonstration flights, but mostly of
larger jets,” said Richard Simmons, executive director of research at the
AirTIES Research Center. “This was unique because it involved a smaller aircraft
in a university setting.”
Simmons said that it is one of the first university jets to
travel using a biofuel blend. Upon arrival, the jet was taxied to the exhibit
area and viewed by air show attendees.
“The fuel was approved and meets the same specifications as
a jet fuel,” Simmons said. “There was very little concern about performance.
That’s one reason we want to go back and compare performance data and validate
“At this point in time, we think the flight went really
well,” added Denver Lopp, professor of aviation technology at Purdue and
co-director of the AirTIES Research Center. “We pulled the measurements off of
that engine. We borescoped it before and after, which means we actually did
inspections on the engine and will compare them.”
Lopp also will study emission rates and make other
comparisons to see how the biofuel blend performed against the other fuel.
Though the process to approve new fuel blends is lengthy and
expensive, Simmons expects to see higher volumes of biofuel blends on the market
in five to 10 years.
Lopp and Simmons both said that the potential for biofuel
use in aviation is high. Industry supporters also believe researching
alternative fuel for planes is a good idea.
“We’re working with Mercurius Biofuels as part of a
(Department of Energy) grant, a $4.6 million grant,” Lopp said. “That grant is
about using cornstalks, wheat stubble and products in the Midwest. It could be a
fairly impactful economic improvement in the Midwest.
“We’re talking about a
product that’s not competitive with food. It’s a value-added product. At this
point, we could develop a whole new infrastructure to help support farmers and
also to develop infrastructural support for processing, trucking and actually
replacing import fuel.”
Lopp said that biofuel use also would improve local
economies by using local resources. “I think the most important benefit is the
impact on the environment,” Simmons said. “These fuels, in terms of total life
cycle impact on the environment, have quite a bit less greenhouse gas emissions
than petroleum fuels.”
He explained that finding biofuel blends for planes is more
complicated than in cars.
“The specs for gasoline fuel for ground transport are more
forgiving, a bit broader,” he said. “The environment in which the jet engine has
to operate is more severe. In terms of temperatures, the properties of the fuel,
the density and so forth, it really affects the plane’s performance.”