US scientists test new renewable fuel for jets, rockets

23 July 2009 18:00  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Scientists with the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environment Research Center (EERC) have created a renewable fuel with the potential to minimise the environmental footprint of rocket launches while substantially reducing upper atmospheric particulate material, the group said on Thursday.

The fuel was created from renewable crop oils, including canola and soybeans, and meets all the screening criteria for renewable jet propellent-8 (JP-8) fuel, a petroleum-based fuel widely used by the US military, the EERC said.

However, in addition to aircraft, the fuel also possesses combustion properties consistent with use in rocket engines, the group said.

The fuel has been tested at a US Air Force facility, the group said.

"Our fuel is already providing a pathway to energy security to the US military and now is becoming an option for ground-to-air missiles and even space flight,” EERC director Gerald Groenewold said.

The fuel is designed to look and act exactly like a petroleum-based jet fuel, but be from a 100% renewable resource, according to Tom Erickson, an associate director for research with the EERC.

“Unlike biodiesel and ethanol, which are new fuels, we’re producing a fuel directly from what we’re using today that would significantly reduce the expenses of transitioning,” Erickson said.

Erickson said the group had commercialisation strategies that would put the cost of the fuel at or below petroleum prices.

The fuel was recently tested in a rocket built by Flometrics, a US product engineering company specialising in fluid dynamics and thermodynamics.

The test run was successful, with the rocket approaching Mach 1, or the speed of sound, and reaching an altitude of about 20,000 feet, the EERC said.

“The demonstration worked very well, and we were pleased with the fuel,” said Steve Harrington, president of Flometrics. “In fact, it performed better than expected.”

The rocket used by Flometrics has previously been used with standard Jet-A fuel and rocket propellant-1 (RP-1) kerosene.

The EERC said it shipped eight gal of the fuel to Flometrics for the test run, and added it was currently securing further funding for more extensive rocket testing in the coming months.

The group said it currently had the funding to produce about 100,000 gal/year of the fuel, with designs in place for systems that would produce 1m-3m gal/year.

“At this point, we’re focused on scaling up the technology, and getting a larger demonstration system in place,” Erickson said.

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By: Ben DuBose
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