Future Jets may Become More Environment Friendly With the Use of Coal, Biomass

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 17 2007 5:38 PM

Two projects by a Princeton University Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering could reduce the jet plane’s role in global warming.

Prof. Fred Dryer and his team’s two researches involve advancing the fundamental knowledge of jet fuels while developing practical and innovative energy sources.

“In order to make alternative jet fuel sources feasible, they need to be compatible with petroleum and produce similar combustion performance. This will only be possible if we fully understand how both petroleum and alternative fuels burn and design engines based on this fundamental knowledge,” said Prof Dryer.

The first of Prof. Dryer’s project, funded by the US Air Force, is focused on developing computational and kinetic models that accurately simulate the burning of jet fuel, a complex and poorly characterized mix of chemicals.

The second is a project funded by NetJets, a leading provider of business jets that aims at developing jet fuels with near-zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

“The composition of fuels changes with the geographic source, the refining process and even with the season. Since we have an energy security problem, we need to be sure that alternative fuel sources are going to work and, in order to do that, we need to understand exactly how petroleum-based fuels work alone and in combination with alternative fuels,” said Prof. Dryer.

As the two alternative aviation fuel sources, coal and biomass, present major problems with regard to emissions levels and land use respectively, Prof. Dryer and his team are working towards developing a fuel that uses a combination of coal and biomass.

A key component of the procedure is isolating and storing the carbon dioxide produced during the production of so-called synfuels. This technique, called carbon capture and sequestration, is a promising strategy being investigated intensively by Princeton's Carbon Mitigation Initiative, among other research programs, he said.

Robert Williams, a senior research scientist at the Princeton Environmental Institute and member of the NetJets-sponsored research team, said an “especially attractive feature” of processing coal and biomass together to make synfuels is that it requires only half the amount of biomaterial as pure biofuel production, while still making fuels with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“There is no doubt that developing feasible alternatives to petroleum for the aviation industry will be a long and expensive process, and success, in the form of an enduring solution, will be priceless,” Prof. Dryer said.