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Biofuels backed for jet fuel, but major hurdles still remain

The National Research Council says jet fuel 
made from Prairie oilseeds provides 
comparable engine performance

Jets can fly safely on straight biofuels, but a host of supply and infrastructure issues have to be resolved before airlines adopt the new fuel, according to the National Research Council (NRC).

The council’s tested 100 per cent biofuel in jets and found it to be “cleaner than and as efficient as conventional aviation fuel.”

The tests were conducted last fall in a Falcon 20 jet flying at 30,000 feet, similar to regular commercial aircraft altitude.

“These tests also show a comparable engine performance, but an improvement of 1.5 per cent in fuel consumption during steady operations,” the council said. “The jet’s engines required no modification as the biofuel tested in flight meets the specifications of petroleum-based fuels.”

There were also major environmental gains — both aerosol and black carbon emissions fell by half, and particulate matter was reduced by one-quarter.

Air Canada and Porter Airlines have also successfully tested biofuels in their aircraft.

But before biofuel takes to the skies on a regular basis, it will need international certification and aircraft makers will have to approve its use in their engines, said Les Alders, vice-president of the Air Transport Association of Canada.

“The NRC has shown it can be done,” he said. “Now it’s up to the manufacturers of aircraft engines and the suppliers of fuel to make it happen.”

Biofuel for jets would open up a major new market for Canadian grain farmers, but there are hurdles there, too, he said.

A major challenge would be ramping up a sufficient supply of the fuel and making it available across the country, he noted. As well, none of the current biofuel plants in Canada are currently producing aviation-grade fuels, said Alders, adding a 50-50 blend of biofuel and regular aviation fuel would likely be the first step.

The fuel used in the NRC tests came from oilseeds grown on the Prairies.

“This year, more than 40 commercial growers in Western Canada have been contracted to grow over 6,000 acres of the oilseed crop that will be used to create 100 per cent bio jet fuel,” the agency stated.

Porter tested a 50-50 blend of fuel on a flight between Toronto and Ottawa last fall, while Air Canada used it on a flight between Toronto and Mexico City last summer.

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