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Technical Brochure No.


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Ethanol as an Aviation Fuel

Aviation gasoline (avgas), the only leaded fuel remaining in the United States transportation fuel market, is to be phased out by mandate of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA). Baylor University in Waco, Texas has set out to

demonstrate that pure denatured ethanol represents a viable, highoctane alternative fuel in the field of aviation. Baylors Renewable Aviation Fuels Development Center (RAFDC) participates in airshows in the United States and abroad to

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Ethanol from biomass High octane replacement for avgas Cooler, cleaner-burning fuel Less engine wear

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Modified Pitts S2B flying over corn at an airshow.


promote the fuels superior power delivery, clean burning properties, octane levels, costs and reliability. Ethanol is usually produced from corn; however, at some of the air shows, ethanol has been sourced from manufacturers who produce it from other renewable biomass resources such as orange waste or sugar beets (see Table 1).

more power, and is likely to present a much cheaper option as supplies become more readily available. Ethanol has an oxidising effect on aluminium, so corrosion inhibitors are added to the fuel. Ethanol supporters still must answer those who make issue of the lower energy content of the fuel and the fact that engines must be modified in order to use ethanol. Even so, ethanol is poised to make a significant impact in fleet transport, especially in view of the CAAA requirements that apply to vehicle fleet operations in 22 nonattainment cities. Work at the RAFDC involves certification of engines and airframes for ethanol use. To date, the Center has certified two series of Lycoming engines (one fuel injected and one carburetted) and both the engine and airframe of a Cessna 152 the worlds most commonly used trainer. The Center has logged more than 4,000 flight hours in nine ethanol-powered aircraft. The RAFDC is also evaluating ethyl-tertiary-butyl-ether (ETBE) as

an aviation fuel. Preliminary dynamometer tests are very promising. An aircraft using ETBE has performed at the worlds largest airshow in Paris.

The Project
The RAFDCs ethanol-powered aeroplanes were featured in 15 demonstrations during 1996. During these events, information was distributed and assistance was given to pilots seeking more information about converting their aircraft to ethanol. Up to $3,000 may have to be spent to modify a Cessna 152 to be able to use ethanol (where $ is the US dollar). The Cessna was fitted with a bigger carburettor jet, a fuel pump, a fuel-flow meter and a totaliser. A small avgas tank was added to enable the engine to be primed in temperatures below 210C. However, not all engines are expected to need this level of modification. The RAFDC is also certifying agricultural aircraft, such as the Piper Pawnee. The Centers concentration on fleet aircraft avoids initial fuel distribution problems, since these planes are commonly refuelled at fleet sites where the correct refuelling can be guaranteed. An ethanol distribution system is presently being implemented through the US Department of Energys Clean Airport Program.

Project Background
The United States currently consumes over 1,000 million litres of avgas each year. Now that lead has been phased out of other transportation fuels, avgas has become the countrys single biggest contributor of lead to the atmosphere. Although avgas has been temporarily excused from CAAA regulations, it is understood throughout the US aviation industry that the use of avgas in its current form will soon be discontinued. Oxygenated alcohol fuels such as ethanol meet the emission reduction standards set by the CAAA. Ethanol is cleaner and cooler in use than avgas, prolongs engine life, delivers

Table 1: Variety of biomass sources used at different demonstration locations Demonstration Location Idaho, USA California, USA Wisconsin, USA Brazil France Italy Biomass Source Potato waste Waste oranges Waste cheese whey Sugar cane Sugar beet Sugar beet

A minor drawback of the use of ethanol fuel is the slightly reduced

range. A litre of ethanol produces about two-thirds the heat of a litre of avgas. However, the effect of range loss is reduced by the higher thermodynamic efficiency of ethanol. A Cessna 152 fitted with a Lycoming 235N2C engine uses about 13.8 litres/100 km on avgas and 15.7 litres/100 km on ethanol. The high octane level of ethanol allows the use of higher compression ratio engines that deliver more power for the same throttle setting. The lower Reid vapour pressure of ethanol helps to prevent vapour locking. Ethanol is cooler and cleaner in use than avgas and is more resistant to detonation, resulting in fewer vibrations and longer engine life.

Farm show at Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

Americas farmers currently produce 20 million m3 of corn per

year, about 6% of the total crop, for use in ethanol production. Increased use of ethanol in aviation will also help to expand markets for agricultural producers who cultivate cellulosic energy crops, an alternative category of biomass

from which the fuel can also be made. Ethanol has a tax advantage. Avgas is taxed at $0.048/litre whilst ethanol receives a tax advantage of $0.14/litre. Avgas costs $0.53/litre on average whilst ethanol costs $0.34 to 0.37/litre. The US ethanol industry provides 55,000 jobs and $15.6 billion/year in net farm income. Avgas is slightly cheaper on a perkilometre basis than ethanol, but the lower maintenance costs associated with the use of ethanol ultimately make it a cheaper fuel option for pilots. Supporters of ethanol point to the prospects of increased avgas costs due to the need for an additive that provides an adequate octane level. They predict that ethanol production costs will drop as the base of sustainable biomass feedstocks is expanded and researchers discover new ways to optimise its production.
Technical Brochure No.51

Table 2: Fuel consumption at various horsepower reference points for a Lycoming IO-540 D4A5 engine with a 10:1 compression ratio Horsepower Avgas (l/hr) 77.2 73.1 78.0 82.5 102.2 107.9 Ethanol (l/hr) 85.2 95.4 89.3 91.6 119.2 128.7 % Increase in Fuel Consumption 10 18 15 11 17 19

180 210 225 238 270 300

Note: Avgas delivered a maximum 300 hp with this engine, while ethanol delivered a maximum 316 hp. In a Lycoming 0-235 engine running on ethanol, the RAFDC has noted a horsepower increase of as much as 20% over avgas. When using ethanolbased ETBE as an alternative fuel, fuel consumption is 5% lower than avgas at 225 hp, the most common power setting for cross-country flight.

Project Organisation Baylor University Department of Aviation Sciences Renewable Aviation Fuels Development Center 700 S. University Parks Dr, Ste. 240 Waco, Texas 76706,USA Contact: Grazia Zanin/Max Shauck Tel: +1 817 755 3563 Fax: +1 817 755 3560 E-mail: Information Organisation National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1617 Cole Boulevard Golden, Colorado 80401-3393, USA Contact: David Warner Tel: +1 303 275 4373 Fax: +1303 275 3619 E-mail:

Please write to the address below if you require more information.

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CADDET Centre for Renewable Energy ETSU, Harwell Oxfordshire OX11 0RA United Kingdom Tel: +44 1235 432719 Fax: +44 1235 433595 E-mail:

International Energy Agency The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous body which was established in 1974 within the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to implement an international energy programme.

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CADDET CADDET was set up in 1988 as an IEA Centre for the Analysis and Dissemination of Demonstrated Energy Technologies. Today, there are two CADDET operations: one is for energy-efficient technologies and the other for renewable energy technologies. The Centres co-operate with member countries in the exchange of high quality information on energy technologies.

Disclaimer Neither CADDET, nor any person acting on their behalf: (a) makes any warranty or representation, expressed or implied, with respect to the information contained in this brochure; or (b) assumes any liabilities with respect to the use of this information.

US 97 504

First printed 1997