PROJECT SUMMARY AND PROGRESS TO DATE
ALFA-BIRD (Alternative Fuels and Biofuels for Aircraft Development) was a project co-funded by the EU in the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, started in July 2008 and ended in June 2012. ALFA-BIRD was an R&D project aiming at viable technical solutions. Its objective was to investigate and develop a variety of alternative fuels for the use in aeronautics, motivated by the need to ensure a sustainable growth of the civil aviation, regarding the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and in the context of oil prices that are highly volatile and increasing in the long term.
The main challenge in the project work was developing fuels that meet the very strict operational constrains in aviation (e.g. flight in very cold conditions), and are compatible with current civil aircraft, which is a must due to their long lifetime of almost 50 years. To address this challenge, ALFA-BIRD gathered a multi-disciplinary consortium with key industrial partners from aeronautics (engine manufacturers, aircraft manufacturers) and fuel industry, and research organizations covering a large spectrum of expertise in fields of biochemistry, combustion as well as industrial safety. Bringing together their knowledge, the consortium developed the whole chain for clean alternative fuels for aviation. The most promising solutions have been examined during the project, from classical ones (plant oils, synthetic fuels) to the most innovative, such as new organic molecules. Based on a first selection of the most relevant alternative fuels, a detailed analysis of 4 new fuels was performed with tests in realistic conditions.
It covers a number of areas, including:
- study of possible alternative fuels for use in aviation;
- chemical analysis of the "best" fuel;
- improved formulation of biofuels;
- new injection systems;
- modeling of injection and combustion;
- compatibility with aircraft fuel systems;
- production of new fuels.
The first fuel selection matrix has been designed around three main axes, covering a wide range of possible alternative fuels from short term to long term:
- paraffinic fuels, with hydrotreated vegetable oils and synthetic fuels
(XtL), in a short / middle term vision
- naphthenic fuels, representative of new production processes such as
coal or biomass liquefaction in a middle term vision
- oxygenated fuels, such as higher alcohols or furanic compounds, in a
long term vision.
Several tests including the standard characterization of the 12 blends were used for the final selection of the 4 fuels that have been tested in the second phase (tests on engine components). The 4 fuels selected were FSJF, FT-SPK, a blend of FT-SPK and 50% naphthenic cut, and a blend of FT-SPK and 20% hexanol. This fuel matrix offers the possibility to evaluate the potential of different chemical families which are paraffinic compounds, naphthenic compounds and oxygenated compounds. This is also representative of a short, middle, and long term view. The information collected during the tests have been used to prepare the environmental and economical impact assessment, which was the basis for the elaboration of the future strategy for the use of alternative fuels for aircraft.
A synthesis of the project providing the main outcomes of the project is available here.