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NASA says biofuels could massively reduce jet engine particles
20 March 2017, 03:29 | Justin Tyler
NASA-led study confirms that aviation biofuels can be a boon for the environment
The study, published in the journal "Nature", was part of a cooperative worldwide research program led by NASA. Persistent contrails can evolve into long-lived clouds that wouldn't form otherwise, affecting atmospheric conditions.
The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions Study includes findings from a cooperative worldwide research program that involved agencies from Germany and Canada, NASA said Thursday.
"Using biofuels to help power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 percent, in a new study conclusion that bodes well for airline economics and Earth's environment", NASA wrote in a press release this week. These initial tests believe that the amount of climate-causing emissions fell between 50 and 70 percent.
Researchers wanted to find out whether biofuels had an effect on the formation of contrails, the cloudy trails that are produced when the hot exhaust of a jet engine mixes with cold air at high altitudes.
According to NASA, aircraft contrails and the clouds they create have a bigger environmental impact than all aviation Carbon dioxide emissions since powered flight began. The benefits come not just from reducing carbon emitted directly into the atmosphere but by also cutting down the chance of contrails forming, which can have an even bigger impact on the Earth's atmosphere.
"Soot emissions also are a major driver of contrail properties and their formation", said Bruce Anderson, ACCESS project scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
In order to test if biofuels were cleaner, NASA flew a DC-8 out of California's Armstrong Flight Center that used different fuels on each trip. The biofuel was a 50-50 blend of traditional Jet A aviation fuel and an alternative fuel produced from camelina plant oil. With this, the observed particle reductions measured during ACCESS should mean reduced ice crystal concentrations in contrails and should help minimize its effect on the planet. A trio of research aircraft took turns flying behind the DC-8 at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 20 miles.
Rich Moore was lead author of the report in Nature. It's NASA's goal to demonstrate biofuels on their proposed supersonic X-plane, according to the agency.
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