Reading: Fuel for thought

While digging around the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) web site I discovered Fuel for thought, a publication by the Future Fuels Forum 2007. This June 2008 publication informs us how the Future Fuels Forum thinks transport fuels will pan out in our future with modelling from now to 2050.  It is an interesting document and I suggest you read it if you are at all interested in the future of transport fuels in Australia. Click the cover page below to download the PDF (1.5Mb).

challenges and opportunities (PDF)

CSIRO 2008: Fuel for thought - The future of transport fuels: challenges and opportunities (PDF)

Apart from being relatively easy to read and informative for those of us without a scientific or economic background it provides great insight into the conservative information upon which our governments are making decisions that impact your future and mine. It isn’t all conservative mind you. The modelling for a continuing rise in demand for oil and a sharp decline in supply shows we could pay as much as $8 per litre for petrol in the not too distant future and the authors do stress the urgency with which alternatives for oil must be found.

While the document was written before the global financial crisis really started to bite the bulk of it remains relevant. If you do read it I’d like to know what you think so please leave a comment.


Economical open-rotor aircraft engines being developed for Clean Sky

Volvo Aero will help develop open-rotor aircraft engines for the EU’s Clean Sky project in conjunction with Rolls-Royce and Snecma . Open-rotor engines are essentially large turbofan engines without the ducting around the outside of the fan. In open rotor engines, the diameter will increase to more than double existing turbofan diameters, allowing the engine to work with a larger airflow, regardless of aircraft speed. This means that the energy turning the fan will be utilized more efficiently, thereby reducing fuel consumption by 15 to 20 percent.

Snecma open-rotor engine

Flight Global: Snecma open-rotor engine

Open-rotor is actually not a new concept. In the 1980’s open-rotor engines were developed when oil prices rose to USD40 per barrel. When the oil price later dropped dramatically, plans were shelved. Sound familiar? Volvo say aircraft with open-rotor engines can be in the air by the end of the decade but engineers will have to reduce the noise that is normally contained by the turbofan ducts on modern jet engines.

Flight Global as more information on the open-rotor developments for Open Sky.

Source: Volvo Group, Flight Global

AeroVironment Puma flies for nine hours powered by a fuel cell hybrid system

The AeroVironment Puma is a small unmanned aircraft with a wingspan of 2.6m and weight of 5.7kg. The Puma is hand-launched and is designed to provide aerial observation at line-of-sight ranges up to 10 kilometers.

AeroVironment Puma

On 06 Mar 08 AeroVironment announced that it has flown a Puma powered by an on-board fuel cell battery hybrid energy storage system for over nine hours. This broke the previous Puma flight record of over seven hours. A two-camera payload system provided a live, streaming video feed from the Puma. The nine-hour flight duration more than triples the duration of Puma’s standard battery-only operation.

The hybrid energy storage system use Protonex Technology Corporation’s Pulse™ unmanned aerial vehicle fuel cell system.

Source: AeroVironment

IATA urges Asia to become the model for sustainable aviation

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on Asia to play a leadership role in driving the aviation industry towards carbon neutral growth leading to a zero-emission industry. Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO imparted this message at the Greener Skies for Asia 2008 conference in Hong Kong.

By 2010 Asia will be the largest single market for aviation. With size comes leadership responsibility. And that includes environment issues.

My focus is on reducing carbon emissions. And reducing fuel burn is at the heart of the issue. Every litre of fuel we can save reduces CO2 emissions by over 3 kilograms. By shortening routes, improving air traffic management and spreading best practice in fuel conservation IATA helped save up to 25 million tonnes of CO2 in the last two years.

Bisignani identified three opportunities for Asian leadership:

  • Communications: Asia must avoid the mistakes we made in Europe by communicating clearly aviation’s good track record on the environment, as well as a relevant and clear vision to governments and the general public.
  • Air Traffic Management: Asia has an opportunity become a model of best practice in air traffic management. Last year the APEC Transport Ministers announced a plan to improve air traffic efficiency that is completely aligned with the industry’s strategy. The region has a head-start with a modern fleet. Now we must drive improvements in air traffic management by harmonising across the region and maximising the capabilities of modern aircraft to set a benchmark of efficiency for others to follow.
  • Technology Investments: Asia’s airlines are investing billions in the most modern and fuel-efficient aircraft available. Governments must also play a role in driving this further with coordinated basic research into future technologies – including alternative fuels – to further improve aviation’s strong environmental track record. Asia’s enormous sovereign wealth funds could make an important contribution with some innovative investments.

Source: IATA via The Australian

Virgin Atlantic biofuel flight to use coconut and babassu oil

The Australian is calling the Virgin Atlantic biofuel flight a “stunt”. The fact that a Virgin publicity exercise involving Richard Branson is being called a stunt shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone.

What is a surprise to me is that after reading the press release I am disappointed with Virgin Atlantic. Here was a great opportunity to show the world that biofuels were a viable option for airlines. Instead we get an overblown press release about how a flight involving an empty 747 with one engine running on a mixture of coconut and babassu oil:

…marks a biofuel breakthrough for the whole airline industry.

The truth is this is a test flight of which we know very little detail. Before the results have been collected Virgin is trumpeting that they are:

…becoming the first airline in the world to fly on renewable fuel.


…is helping to pioneer renewable fuel sources for aviation.

This is stretching the truth too far in my opinion. When any airline can demonstrate the flight of one of their aircraft powered completely by a sustainable biofuel that has been certified for use in that aircraft type we will witness a breakthrough for the whole airline industry. Until then lets keep things in perspective.

I hope the post flight press release contains more detail and less hype.

Source: The Australian, PR

Airbus fly an A380 with one engine using synthetic jet fuel

In November 2007 Qatar Airways, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Fuel Company, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Shell International Petroleum and the Qatar Science and Technology Park signed an agreement to research the potential benefits of synthetic jet fuel in aviation engines. Less than three months later the first test flight under that agreement took place.

An Airbus A380 aircraft has successfully completed a flight with one of its four engines running on a blend of synthetic jet fuel and normal aviation fuel. The three hour flight from Filton in the UK to Toulouse, France, is the first in a test flight programme that is designed to evaluate the environmental impact of alternative aviation fuels. Airbus also intends to study viable second generation biofuels when they become available.

Airbus A380

Shell International Petroleum provided the Shell GTL Jet Fuel that it produced from natural gas using the Fischer-Tropsch process. This process is not environmentally friendly in that it results in significant CO2 emissions during the production process. The up side is that it produces fuel that is very clean and with little or no sulphur content. As a result of its cleanliness it produces less pollutants when burnt in a jet engine. However, as far as I know it still produces more CO2 through its life cycle than normal jet fuel although the 119 percent figures I am thinking of are based on coal-to-liquid. Gas-to-liquid may be better.

The US Air Force has certified similar synthetic fuel for use in B-52s and C-17s (previous post) so while this was a significant achievement for Airbus and partners it is not a first for modern aviation.

Source: Airbus and Shell via Sky News

Virgin Atlantic 747 biofuel flight planned for February

Reuters are reporting that Virgin Atlantic will fly a Boeing 747 from Heathrow and Amsterdam next month to test biofuel. The 747 will fly without passengers and will likely only run one engine on the as yet unspecified biofuel. We await more specific news from the Branson/Virgin publicity machine.

Source: Reuters