INSIGHT: Airline industry explores ways to cut jet fuel consumption

16 July 2010 17:27  [Source: ICIS news]

By Sheena Martin

BoeingHOUSTON (ICIS news)--The airline industry is being driven to find ways to reduce fuel consumption due to environmental considerations, energy availability and cost concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said this week.

Just last month it introduced its Continuous Low Energy Emission and Noise (CLEEN) programme designed to advance aircraft and sustainable fuels technologies.

The FAA expects air travel to increase over the next 20 years but would like to see it become much cleaner and green.

“Technology innovation has traditionally led to the biggest gains in reducing aviation’s environmental footprint and energy consumption,” an FAA spokesperson said commenting on the money it is pumping in to new research. “We cannot foretell which [technology] will win out in the market - no one can.”

But the FAA is hedging its bets, tying up with the largest aircraft and engine makers, to help push the boundaries of new technology.

The goals for the CLEEN programme are impressive: to reduce fuel burn by 33%, cut nitrogen oxide emissions during takeoff and landing by 60% and develop sustainable alternative aviation jet fuels and safety and transition strategies to replace petroleum-derived aviation fuels.

Outlined in June, the programme could be implemented as early as 2015.

In July, the FAA awarded five contracts worth a total of $125m (€98m) over five years to engine and airplane manufacturers in order to “develop and demonstrate technologies that will reduce commercial jet fuel consumption, emissions and noise”.

Multiple companies are well into project development, including Boeing, General Electric (GE), Pratt & Whitney and Honeywell’s process technology subsidiary, UOP.

These companies are pushing hard to develop the aircraft engines, bodies and airliner concepts of the future. Their work will lay the ground for new materials and fuel requirements for the industry for years to come.

Boeing’s premiere aircraft for fuel savings is the 787 Dreamliner, scheduled to make its international debut at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK later this month.

By using composites in the body of the aircraft, fuel-sipping engine technology and improved aerodynamics it claims a 20% improvement in fuel savings.

The Dreamliner is the first built more than 50% from carbon fibre infused with epoxy resin. The new material is tough, but in a situation with a hard enough impact the material will break instead of bend. In addition, epoxy resin burns in a fire.

But the material and construction have been rigorously tested.

“All materials [no matter what their composition] must meet the durability and structural integrity requirements set by the FAA,” said Jennifer Cram, spokeswoman for Boeing.

“All materials and their applications have additional stringent Boeing test requirements which meet or exceed the Federal Aviation Requirements (FARs) before they ever make it onto a Boeing airplane.”

Also part of the CLEEN programme, GE Technologies has been developing the TAPS II Combustor and an Open Rotor to increase fuel efficiency in its engines. The TAPS II Combustor will work with GE’s new eCore engine in narrow body aircraft and the next generation of regional and business jet engines.

It will deliver up to 16% better fuel efficiency compared to GE’s current best engines, according to the company. GE began testing the combustor in June 2009.

The Open Rotor is an un-ducted fan engine using blade aero-acoustic and pitch-change mechanisms that would reduce fuel consumption by 26% and decrease engine noise during takeoff and landing, GE said.

Aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney has continued to develop advanced technologies for its PurePower geared turbofan engine family.

By 2020, the company expects fuel-burn savings of 25-35%. The PW800 engine incorporates an advanced fan, compressor, turbine and low-emissions (TALON) combustion system for improved fuel consumption, thrust-growth capability and better environmental performance.

The PW1000G engine improves fuel burn by 12-15% compared to today’s best engines used in regional jets to mainline single-aisle aircraft, the company says. It has the potential to save an airline about $1m per aircraft per year and cuts carbon emissions by 3,000 tonnes per aircraft per year, it adds.

The engine has the first ultra-high bypass ratio turbofan engine with light-weight, low-pressure fan design and composite fan case, the company says. It also has advanced aerodynamics, tied-shaft rotor and integrally-bladed rotors with 10 on-wing blend locations.

The engine design is expected to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by more than 50%.

Pratt & Whitney is assembling the engine and conducting full testing this year, with plans for flight testing in 2011 and expectations that aircraft with this engine will enter into service in 2013.

Honeywell’s UOP, working with Gulfstream Aerospace and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has been developing a green jet fuel that meets current specifications while lowering emissions.

“To date we have proven that fuel can be made from algae, camelina, jatropha, tallow [animal fats] and halophytes [sea grasses], but there are many other biological sources that could be used,” Honeywell spokeswoman Susan Gross said.

“We have designed the process to be feedstock flexible so that any of these sources can be converted to fuel using the same process.”

The fuel does not require a change to the aircraft engine in order to function.

“Having a ‘drop-in’ fuel, as we call it, allows an airline to use biofuels in whatever proportion makes sense,” Gross said.

Green fuel produced by Honeywell has been used for several commercial and military demonstrations including Continental Airlines, Air New Zealand, Japan Airlines, the US Air Force, the US Navy and the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

A blend of 50% green jet fuel and 50% petroleum-based fuel was used in each case. The UOP process green jet fuel does not contain aromatics which are needed in current engines and, therefore, has to be blended with conventional fuel.

Honeywell said it expects the fuel to be certified for commercial use this year, and it has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80%.

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By: Sheena Martin
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