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The Dramatic increase in fuel prices in recent years has caused concern in aviation industry. The current aviation fuel is produced from crude oil. The discovery of new crude oil resources has become a rarity; however, the global demand for aviation fuel is increasing at a faster rate. This has awakened the aviation industry and supply and prices of aviation fuel has become a topic of debate involving ATAG, stakeholders, Governments, industry and Research Institutions. Due to low prices, availability and technical advantages, long life time and high capital investment in aircrafts, kerosene derived from crude oil is considered to be the preferred aviation fuel. This trend is likely to continue for another 2-3 decades. Among the technical advantages kerosene has good flow characteristics – viscosity and freeze point, clear combustion, low luminosity, good energy density and good thermal stability. The concerns about rising prices, energy security, and aviation emissions have led to look into alternative fuels. The potential of alternative fuel in aviation is not a new concept. Early jet engines were developed using hydrogen as fuel. Due to the requirements for aircraft to use a fuel with high energy content per weight and per volume, kerosene has become a standard aviation fuel in 1970’s synthetic aviation fuels based on shale oil, tar sands, and coal liquids were investigated, but their prohibitive cost became the main hurdle in their commercialization. In 1980’s biofuels such as ethanol, esters of fatty acids were also mooted for use as aviation fuels, but could not be pursued due to their high cost and low energy density. The main challenges that an alternative aviation fuel must address include: 1. Reducing environment impact. Aviation industry consumes 2% of all fossil fuels burnt i.e. about 12% of total fuel consumption of entire transport sector. CO2 emission is only about 3% of total CO2 generated by the transport sector, but its environment impact is under spot light. 2. Reducing operating costs. 3. Improving availability and diverse supply options. 4. Meeting specifications/need of the aircraft industry. 5. Safety norms which are becoming more and more stringent with the rise of aviation industry.
The alternative fuels for aviation industry may also face several obstacles/ problems, which include: 1. Lead time for fuel and additive development are long ~ 10 years. 2. Airlines do not like aircraft that needs special fuel. 3. Little incentive to develop aircraft/engines running on special high performance or alternative fuel. 4. Local alternative fuel potion common on ground transportation fuels only applicable to general aviation. 5. Hydrogen, the cleanest fuel, would require completely new aircraft and infrastructure. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) in its Report “Aviation and Global Atmosphere 1999 have reported the impact of emissions from civil aviation. This Report has also commented “Alternative fuels may appear environmentally friendly but technical problems occur in adapting the fuel to current aircraft design and aviation infrastructure.” This report deals with the alternative aviation fuel options, biofuels in particular, and their role in future aviation industry and outline the R &D needs for the development of bio aviation fuels.
Alternative Aviation fuel options:
There are number of alternative fuel potions for aviation, these can be classified as follows: 1. Synthetic liquid fuels – derived from coal, natural gas, or biomass. It sometimes also refer to fuels derived from other solids such as shale oil, tar sand, waste plastics etc. 2. Bio aviation fuels – Fatty acid esters (biodiesel) derived from agricultural or wild oil crops like soya, palm, jatropha, algae etc. 3. Other oxygenates – methanol, ethanol 4. Hydrogen – obtained from fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas and coal, biomass, and water etc.
5. Biomethane – methane from agricultural waste, forest waste and Municipal solid waste (MSW) etc. 6. Nuclear
Renewable Aviation Fuels:
Biofuels (Biodiesel): Biodiesel (mono-alkyl esters of fatty acids) can be produced by transesterification of glycerides obtained from vegetable oils, waste oil products and algae or esterification of fatty acids with methanol. Biodiesel is a partial substitute for kerosene. It is expected to reduce fuel cycle carbon emissions and is readily biodegradable. There several disadvantages with the use of biodiesel as aviation fuel. These include poor low temperature properties (high cloud and pour points), oxidation stability, and water penetration. Biodiesel has potential for use in blends with kerosene as aviation fuel. The cost is however high as compared to current crude oil based jet fuels. Methanol: Methanol is not a suitable jet fuel. Its energy density is too low in either mass or volume terms. There is also an emissions problem with methanol as it produces formaldehyde at idle or low power, thus creating health hazards to the ground staff at airports. Due to its low flash point (18oC) it is not safe. For JP-8 the minimum requirement of flash point is 38oC. Ethanol: Ethanol due to its similar properties as methanol is also unsuitable for use as aviation fuel. Its flash point is even lower than methanol. Synthetic liquid fuels: Synthetic liquid fuels, known as Fischer-Tropsch Kerosene (FT-fuel) is produced from various carboniferous including biomass via syn gas. To date most research on FT-Fuels has been done by the South African Company SASOL.
FT-Fuels derived from biomass would provide fuel cycle CO2 benefits compared to mineral kerosene. FT- Fuels are virtually sulfur free and low in aromatic content, which leads to poor lubricity. These disadvantages can be overcome by use of additives. Hydrogen: Use of liquefied hydrogen as a jet fuel offers potential environmental advantages, if H2 is derived from the gasification of biomass or by electrolysis of water using renewably generated electricity. It would provide advantage due to its higher energy density than mineral kerosene. H2 however, presents significant technical challenges and would require changes to the airframe design and development and modification of jet engines. Liquefied Bio-methane: There has been some research and interest in developing LNG fueled jets in former Soviet Union. ADTK’s Tupolev 154 with its one engine modified has flown test flights on LNG. As the aircraft can be operated on LNG, there is a possibility that they can be operated with Bio-methane produced from renewable sources. With Bio-methane the fuel cycle CO2 benefits would be much greater, but there would be some emissions of methane, which is a green house gas. Among the various options mentioned above, the following four renewable fuel options seem suitable for detailed research: 1. 2. 3. 4. Biodiesel as kerosene extender FT-kerosene derived from biomass Liquid H2 produced from renewable sources such as biomass or water. Bio-methane
Besides these, hydrotreated lipids from vegetable oils and algae may also provide suitable alternative as aviation fuel. The major problem cost associated with biodiesel can be overcome if lipids are produced from cheaper raw materials such as biomass.
Conclusions and Issues: 1. Kerosene based fuels would continue to be the principal fuel for commercial aircraft for the next2-3 decades. Alternatives equivalent are however, open for further study and research to make them widely acceptable aircraft fuel in the future. Emphasis is likely on the fuels derived from renewable sources such as biomass. 2. Oxygenates such as methanol and ethanol are not viable options because of their low energy densities and likelihood of aldehyde emissions at idle and low power operation. 3. Liquid bio-methane (synthetic natural gas, SNG) can be used as aircraft fuel but is not likely available in large quantities for used as substitute to kerosene based fuels. 4. Biodiesel, Biomass derived FT-Fuels and Hydrogen offer eco-friendly alternatives to kerosene based aviation fuels, but warrant further research and development particularly to reduce cost and specific properties mandatory for aviation fuels. 5. Biodiesel and FT-Fuels are better suited as blended fuels with kerosene based fuels. 6. Biodiesel requires further research to improve its cold flow properties, thermal stability, and cost. Cold flow properties and thermal stability can be improved by use of additives and improvements in production processes. About 75-80% component of cost of biodiesel is raw material cost. Low cost raw materials like lipids from algae, non-edible oil and biomass derived lipids are potential options for production of biodiesel. Research is however needed to efficiently extract lipid from algae, improving lipid content its lipids content and finding value addition to the associated biomass. 7. Biomass can be converted to lipids by bio-processing using suitable bacteria. Biomass is available in abundant quantities at very low price. 8. FT-Kerosene could be used in current aircrafts with few, if any modifications. Due to negligible sulphur and aromatics its lubricity is low and needs to be improved.
9. In South Africa Sasol has already certified a jet fuel blend containing 50% coal derived FT-Fuel and 50% conventional kerosene. 10. H2 is a clean burning fuel and has a vast potential for use as aviation fuel. Use of hydrogen requires new design of aircraft and engine. Further there is a need to install sufficient capacity to produce hydrogen from biomass at relatively cheaper cost. Currently Hydrogen from biomass is not an economical option as compared to hydrogen from non renewables such as natural gas or other fossil based sources. Research in this area is needed. 11. To reduce cost of production of hydrogen from biomass co-production of FT-Fuels with hydrogen is a potential option. Another option can be to use CO produced with H2 to produce value added products based on CO and CO2 such as Fertilizers and chemicals. 12. Co-production of methanol with FT-Fuels from biomass may also reduce cost of aviation fuels. 13. Among the other options for renewable aviation fuels hydrotreatment of lipids, obtained from vegetable oils and algae, to produce hydrocarbons equivalent to conventional kerosene seems to have potential for further study for its use as aviation fuel.
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