Rolls-Royce and British Airways study alternative fuels for planes

Rolls-Royce and British Airways are launching a scientific test programme to look into the viability of alternative fuels for the aviation industry

The study will try to identify practical alternatives to the current industry-standard fuel kerosene than can reduce the carbon footprint of aircraft.

The companies will initiate a joint tender process, inviting suppliers to offer fuel samples for testing on a Rolls-Royce RB211 engine from a British Airways Boeing 747. The tests will be carried out on an indoor engine test bed at the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, UK.

Testing the engine in a controlled environment means that more accurate data can be gathered than would be possible on an actual flight, because additional instrumentation can be used and performance and emissions will not be affected by other external factors.

Following the tender process, up to four alternative fuels will be selected to undergo laboratory testing before being delivered to Rolls-Royce in the new year. Each company will be asked to supply up to 60,000 litres of their alternative fuel.

This will be followed by intensive trials, during which the aero-engine will be powered by the alternative fuels and its performance compared to running on conventional kerosene. In each case, the engine will be operated through its full range of power settings including idle, acceleration, take off and cruise.

Testing is expected to be complete by the end of March 2009, after which the results will be analysed and reported.

Ric Parker, director of research and technology at Rolls-Royce, said: "The key criteria for the selection of the alternative fuels will be their suitability, sustainability and industrial capability.

"It is critical that the fuel can not only do the job required of it, but can also offer a CO2 benefit and be produced without a detrimental impact to food, land or water. There must also be clear evidence of the potential for mass production and global distribution of an alternative fuel to support the world’s aviation industry."

Jonathon Counsell, head of environment at British Airways, said: "We are delighted to be leading this study with Rolls-Royce. British Airways was the first airline to set fuel efficiency targets, leading us to improve our fuel efficiency by 28 per cent since 1990. Should the tests we are undertaking with Rolls-Royce be successful, the potential for bringing us closer to a greener fuel alternative that will help the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint is enormous. The results of the study will be made public so the whole industry, its customers and, most importantly, the environment can benefit."


Image: RB211 engine [Rolls-Royce]

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