New Nasa study confirms biofuels' ability to reduce pollution from aircraft

DC-8 engine over ice. Author NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

DC-8 engine over ice. Author NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

During flight tests near NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, the agency collected data regarding several parameters. They are primarily composed of water in the form of ice crystals.

Anyway, back to real science.

The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions Study includes findings from a cooperative global research program that involved agencies from Germany and Canada, NASA said Thursday.

Previous studies on the effect of jet fuel had been conducted by locking a jet down and powering up its engines, but scientist wanted to see how the particles interacted with the far colder air at cruising altitudes between 30,000 and 40,000 feet.

"We know these contrails and cirrus clouds have a warming effect on the Earth's climate, and it's now thought the warming effect associated with those clouds is more significant than all of the carbon dioxide emitted by aviation since the first powered flights began". "Since 2000, the DLR Falcon has been used in numerous measurement campaigns to investigate the emissions and contrails of commercial airliners".

Incidentally, my Msc. thesis was about camelina oil-derived biofuels and although I focused on a life cycle analysis in non-aviation transportation, I found camelina to be promising as a liquid fuel too. It's also a great nitrogen fixer which means you can use camelina in rotation with grain crops and, theoretically at least, you can improve the soil while making a profit.

In a news release earlier this week, NASA said the reduction could be as much as 50 to 70 percent, and that the study is good news for both the environment and airline economics. The findings were reported in the journal Nature.

The researchers admitted that they will continue these studies to better understand and prove the potential benefits of replacing current fuels with biofuels. "As a result, the observed particle reductions we've measured during ACCESS should directly translate into reduced ice crystal concentrations in contrails, which in turn should help minimise their impact on Earth's environment".

The clouds are believed to be one factor affecting the environment. The ACCESS tests found that the biofuel mix reduced particle emissions by between 50 and 70 percent, which is good news not just for Carbon dioxide air pollution, but for cutting back the likelihood that contrails will form. It's NASA's goal to demonstrate biofuels on their proposed supersonic X-plane, according to the agency.

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