First civil aircraft flight to use unblended sustainable jet biofuel carried out by Canadian government researchers
NRC's Falcon 20 touches down at Ottawa International after biofuel flight (photo: NRC)
Tue 30 Oct 2012 – The first flight of a civil jet aircraft powered by 100 per cent unblended biofuel was undertaken yesterday by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) from Ottawa International Airport. As well as a symbolic milestone, the test flight of NRC’s Falcon 20 was conducted as part of a programme to better understand the environmental impact of biofuel. A second NRC aircraft, a T-33, tailed the Falcon in flight to collect valuable information on the emissions generated by the biofuel for analysis by research experts and preliminary results are expected to be released in the coming weeks. The drop-in ReadiJet fuel was produced using Agrisoma’s Resonance Energy Feedstock, a dedicated industrial oilseed developed from the non-food Brassica carinata crop that was launched at commercial scale earlier this year across a broad region of western Canada.
“This flight represents the culmination of a significant and strategic effort within Canada to demonstrate leadership in green aviation, from the commercialisation of a sustainable and scalable feedstock crop to an ‘at altitude’ flight demonstration with real-time emissions monitoring during flight,” said Agrisoma CEO Steven Fabijanski. “To date, all powered flight has relied on fossil fuel. This flight changes everything: we have witnessed petroleum-free aviation.”
Systems onboard the twin-engine Falcon 20 allowed NRC’s flight research team to switch back and forth between conventional petroleum-based aviation fuel and the unblended ReadiJet biofuel during the flight. NRC and Applied Research Associates (ARA), a partner in the programme, have been ground testing the fuel against ASTM and military specifications.
For technical reasons, ASTM has approved hydrogenated vegetable oil derived fuels, known as HEFA fuels (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids), for use in only 50% blends for commercial aviation. However, the proprietary process developed by ARA and Chevron Lummus Global (CLG) for converting the biomass into jet fuel may prove to have overcome the challenges. Using the catalytic hydrothermolysis process, oil from the Resonance feedstock was converted for the flight into a fuel that represents a complete replacement for conventional jet fuel, claim ARA and CLG, enabling 100% biofuel use.
The feedstock is a member of the mustard oilseed crop family, which Agrisoma says is well-suited for production in semi-arid areas and marginal lands. NRC, a Canadian government research and development agency, is helping Agrisoma complete a value chain for its alternative jet fuel and funding for the test programme has been provided by the Canadian government’s Clean Transportation Initiatives along with the Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN).
“This is a perfect example of how government and industry work together to bridge the gap between Canadian innovation and commercialisation,” commented Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology. “The NRC, through our government’s investments, helps support the Canadian economy by enabling its partners to develop and bring sustainable energy solutions to market.”