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Pratt & Whitney Launches Biofuels Research Program for Small- and Medium-Sized Aircraft Engines

13 July 2008

Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) is leading a four-year aerospace industry-university research program to investigate the potential use of biofuels from non-food sources for small- and medium-size aviation engine applications. These could include jatropha- and algae-derived biofuels, as well as biobutanol, to power aircraft engines.

The objectives for the project include identifying and assessing appropriate biofuels, studying their effect on engine components such as combustors and fuel systems, developing appropriate technologies and design changes to accommodate them, and conducting tests comparing current jet fuels with first-generation ethanol, as well as second-generation biofuels.

The alternative fuel project is one of several initiatives announced recently by the governments of Canada and India under a joint research collaboration agreement in the field of science and technology. The Canadian portion is being funded through the International Science and Technology Partnerships Program.

P&WC is managing the project and dedicating resources at its research centres in Longueuil, Quebec and Mississauga, Ontario to look into engine components and materials changes. Infotech Enterprises Ltd. and two major Indian oil companies will share in this effort. Four Canadian institutions, McGill University, Laval University, Ryerson University and National Research Council Canada are also participating, along with the Indian Institute of Technology, Science and Petroleum.

P&WC has previously undertaken research into alternative jet fuel blends using shale and tar sand oil derived products, as well as hydrogen.

P&WC made the announcement at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK (14-20 July), where it also announced that its Geared Turbofan engine (earlier post) will power Lufthansa’s new Bombardier CSeries aircraft. The GTF engine targets a more than 12% improvement in fuel burn with significant reductions in engine noise, environmental emissions and operating costs.

Lufthansa has signed a Letter of Interest for up to 60 of the new mainline jet, including 30 firm and 30 optional aircraft. The announcement marks the launch of Bombardier’s CSeries program, which is exclusively powered by the next-generation Geared Turbofan engine.

July 13, 2008 in Aviation, Biomass, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)


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They cannot move fast enough!

Apparently, the folks at Pratt and Whitney need to talk to the folks at Boeing (their largest customer) and the military, (their other largest customer) and share some information. From what I understand, the military has already successfully flown a B-52 with one engine running on Biojet. So has Virgin airlines.

A four year research program?? Who are they kidding. If they want to sell any engines in four years, they better already be making commercial quantities of the stuff, or have a contractor ready to go to give their customers some confidence.

The airlines are starting to look like walking dead about now, and they need a biofuel miracle to survive. Don't tell me the same people who broke the sound barrier can't figure out how to build some large-scale algae ponds.

Get moving already, people!

Are we even reading the same article? This has nothing to do with producing biofuel. This is about the affects different kinds of biofuel have on small and medium sized engines.

It doesn't make much sense to produce a particular biofuel it using it makes airplanes fall out of the sky...

Ryan K,

Understood. I'm saying that if the engine and airframe manufacturers want to survive, they are going to have to do a lot more than study the problem.

If you read my comment, I referred to the fact that actual flight tests have already been done within the last 2 years by both the military and commercial airlines. So four additional years to study the problem is just too damn long.

If I was a large P&W shareholder, I'd be raising holy hell at this kind of lackadaisical time frame. They need to have all their engines certified for all the different types of biojet at the very latest this time next year.

Let’s use nuclear power to produce Biofuel

The process works like this. One hundred and fifty 100-ton rail cars bring the biomass feedstock for the conversion process each day.

The feedstock is fed into the Biomass-to-liquid processor where it is liquefied by heat derived from a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. Additional reactor heat is used to generate hydrogen from water. The hydrogen and biomass carbon react to produce a variety of hydrocarbon fuels based on the process temperatures and pressures, with diesel fuel being the most desirable for aircraft.

Diesel fuel, which has the highest specific energy of the hydrocarbon fuels, provides “gas mileage” twice that of ethanol and 40 percent higher than gasoline. And this isn’t the “dirty diesel” of years gone by. For those of you accustomed to the smell of exhaust from diesel fuel containing 500 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, this will change. Low-sulfur fuel now on the market has only 15 ppm. Diesel derived from the BTL process has 0 ppm and is odorless.

Liquid biomass projections indicate that it would require 200 BTL plants to produce 10 million barrels of oil per day, reducing our dependence on current imports of 12 million barrels per day by 83 percent. While this may seem like a huge number of nuclear BTL plants, energy industry sources report between 132 and 137 major coal-fired power plants currently under construction.

If you can overcome your fear of the atom, a new green world will unfold for you.


The airlines can and will adapt just like the auto industry - but they can do it (have done it) a lot better: they can go into bankruptcy, mothball their aircraft, and tell the employees they don't need anymore to hit the road. They're not in the business of fuel R&D; they will simply downsize until their numbers look good, and upsize again when market conditions allow it.


Excellent idea with biofuel produced from nuclear energy. They could do this in Florida, the biomass capital of the south. There is so much biomass from invasive, nuisance and exotic plant species (mostly Brazillian Pepper, Primrose Willow, Australian Pine and Melaleuca) that people pay to have it removed. In addition, next to the new nuclear/biofuel facility, a monstrous desalination plant could be built to provide copious amounts of freshwater.

Conceptually, this is brilliant - realistically, it is doubtful that all the parties needed to accomplish such a feat could play nice enough to make it a reality...too many fiefdoms (energy, government, agriculture) that would need to collaborate.

32 TONS of radioactive waste PER YEAR though.....I'm not so sure I like the idea of a whole slew of new nuke's too bad we can't safely send all of this stuff into the sun....

(below taken from

One kilogram of uranium in the PBMR fuel has a greater energy output than 430 tons of the best coal with an ash content (waste) of up to 40 percent. A large coal-fired power station uses about 2 200 trainloads of coal per year (six a day), while only 2 truckloads of fuel per week will be required for 24 PBMR nuclear power stations of equivalent capacity. For the PBMR demonstration unit at Koeberg, 10 truckloads will be needed for the initial load, and only 4 truckloads per year for the replacement of spent fuel.

A 165 MWe PBMR module will generate about 32 tons of spent fuel pebbles per annum, about 1 ton of which is uranium. The storage of PBMR spent fuel should be easier than for fuel elements or rods from conventional nuclear reactors, as no safety graded cooling systems are needed to prevent fuel failure.

The PBMR system has been designed to deal with nuclear waste efficiently and safely. There will be enough room for the spent fuel to be stored in dry storage tanks at the PBMR plant for the power station’s expected 40-year operational life, during which time no spent fuel will have to be removed from the site. After the plant has been shut down, the spent fuel can be safely stored on site for another 40 years before being sent to a final repository.

"Get moving already, people!"


Have you ever worked at Pratt? Do you have any Idea of the level of Brainiacs they hire? These are not "Orange County Choppers" and can be pulled over to the side of the road to be hauled away in a trailer if it breaks.

What fuel? they are looking into many if I read it correct. What effect if any will these have on Fuel Injector Systems, Ignition, Annular Combustors and they down stream HPT and LPT's.? What are the fuel outputs, and if less BTU's do you then "push" the engine to make up for it and still maintain reliability? You then have to call in the structures guys to make sure you aren't going to ruin a turbine. This is just scratching the surface....

Your modern turbine engine is as complicated as the space shuttle.

And for the record, The B-52, C-17, (and F-16 in testing if my memory is correct) that have been approved on CTL are all Pratt Powered. My guess they were heavily involved in this program as well.

4 years IMHO is rapid, this can't be done overnight, consider attuning yourself to what the realities of the aerospace arena truly are in terms of testing and certification for man carrying engine/airframes.

If they fuel is synthesized using synthesis gas from gasification, it should be more pure than the refined product. Assuming their process is a good one, I do not think that they will find any problems. In fact, I have read that synthetic fuel burn clean and adds to engine life.

32 TONS of radioactive waste PER YEAR though.....I'm not so sure I like the idea of a whole slew of new nuke's too bad we can't safely send all of this stuff into the sun....

EJJ here is something on waist and some details to minimize it.

Pebble Beds can be run as fast spectrum reactors eliminating the need to have associated breeder reactors. By adjusting the pyrographite to silicon carbide ratio, the neutron moderation of each pebble is reduced, hardening the neutron spectrum.

Helium is already transparent to neutrons. Once you have a fast neutron spectrum, a reactor core can be configured to give a K eff of just over 1.0+ therefore breeding its own fuel as it runs.

If the design is good, the reactor “Breeds and Feeds” meaning over a 30+ year life time of the reactor the K eff of the reactor never swings negative because the reactor is in balance burning as much as it is producing.

One advantage here is that all transuranics are fissile in a fast spectrum eliminating the higher actinides, transuranics and most long lived fission products by the n-p capture route. Wastes from a fast reactor fuel cycle are only radioactive for 600 years not tens of thousands like the current light water reactors’ once through cycle.

Once a fast reactor is loaded with its initial fuel, it never has to be feed enriched U or Pu again. It breeds all its own fuel from the natural U238 in its pebbles. After the core life is expended which can be upwards of 30 years in a fast core, any remaining U238 and all the isotopes of Pu, if any, can be recycled and then added back in to new pebbles while the other fission product waste is vitrified and stored for 600 years in a geologic repository to cool.

This other waste contains a few shorter lived radio nuclides of main concern. These shorter lived waste products are strontium-90 whose half life is 28.5 years, and cesium-137 whose half life is 30 years. The radioactivity of these shorter lived nuclides is approximately 95% of the total radioactivity of the nuclides of concern. Total hazardous life for these shorter lived nuclides is considered to be between 600 years and 1000 years depending upon your level of risk tolerance.

Using a fast neutron spectrum allows all the energy in natural uranium to be used not just 7% like a light water reactor does. There is enough Pu and U235/238 in the 50000lbs of spent fuel from the existing light water reactor fleet to run this fast reactor for a century at current power levels with out having to mine a single gram of new uranium.

The economics are even stronger for this fast reactors since it uses 60 times less yellow cake per watt hour because they can burn all the U238/235 +Pu239 +Americium +Curium +Neptunium where a light water reactor can only burn U235 and some of the PU239 it creates. The higher tranuranics are left in the spent fuel being relatively non-fissile in a light water reactor. Given that a fast reactor only needs natural uranium plus 20% PU239 or U235( like a fire starter in your baroque) once at start up, after which only natural uranium is added to keep the reactor running at a consumption rate 60 times less than a light water reactor.

If we can burn the waste from the current light water reactor dump, on the whole, we will be ahead of the game.

Axil @ 5:16:13,

Done any computations on the energy input to make your first clause a reality, instead of just hand waving? The “One hundred and fifty 100-ton rail cars bring the biomass feedstock for the conversion process each day” statement.

Have you mapped the “10 million barrels of oil per day” back to land use area? How about 1MB/Day?

Since you posit continuous operation (in order to get your return on capital cost down, I suspect) how do you propose to store the feed stock when seasonal factors curtail its production? Not much of the US is going to be productive all year, and that’s already dedicated to food and retirement.

Axil @ Jul 13, 8:54:30 PM,

Interesting post.

Can Pebble Beds be run as fast spectrum reactors and still “fail soft”?

Here you make a case for using them in steady state operation for high density hydrocarbon fuel production, but can these reactors be used for load following in conventional electric generation? If so, what are the trade-offs in doing this?

Got any special expertise in this field, or are you like me – someone with a browser?


Have you mapped the “10 million barrels of oil per day” back to land use area? How about 1MB/Day?

That estimate came from a coal to liquid production result.

To produce fuel, any source of carbon can be used. The key is to make the process carbon neutral to restrain GW. Co2 sequestered from the air is best to use. I admit that the fuel market might denude the continent of plant life.


The more carbon you can gather, the more fuel you can make.

Here is an estimate from the experts.



There is, however, a major caveat that explains why no one has built a carbon-dioxide-to-gasoline factory: it requires a great deal of energy.

To deal with that problem, the Los Alamos scientists say they have developed a number of innovations, including a new electrochemical process for detaching the carbon dioxide after it has been absorbed into the potassium carbonate solution. The process has been tested in Dr. Kubic’s garage, in a simple apparatus that looks like mutant Tupperware.

Even with those improvements, providing the energy to produce gasoline on a commercial scale — say, 750,000 gallons a day — would require a dedicated power plant, preferably a nuclear one, the scientists say.

According to their analysis, their concept, which would cost about $5 billion to build, could produce gasoline at an operating cost of $1.40 a gallon and would turn economically viable when the price at the pump hits $4.60 a gallon, taking into account construction costs and other expenses in getting the gas to the consumer. With some additional technological advances, the break-even price would drop to $3.40 a gallon, they said.

A nuclear reactor is not required technologically. The same chemical processes could also be powered by solar panels, for instance, but the economics become far less favorable.

I think with a pebble bed reactor, the cost is a great deal less.


Can Pebble Beds be run as fast spectrum reactors and still “fail soft”?

In pebble beds, the primary safety design consideration is the design and production of the pellets. Every pellet design needs to be tested in a walk away coolant failure condition. And The NRC will look long and hard at the close k eff factor during qualification. I think this will all clarify during additional Gen IV reactors design work. They all run fast and hot.

I think the Chinese and Indians will go towards the thorium fuel cycle. That will exclude getting any operational experience about the Uranium fast spectrum from Asia.

Here you make a case for using them in steady state operation for high density hydrocarbon fuel production, but can these reactors be used for load following in conventional electric generation? If so, what are the trade-offs in doing this?

Pebble bed reactors make electricity, hydrogen, and heat.
The Chinese will use all three.

Since the helium coolant does not mediate the nuclear reaction, it can be dispatched in varying proportions to electricity production (as needed), hydrogen or heat for fuel production.

They also can run in clusters giving an added degree of dispatch flexibility.

Got any special expertise in this field, or are you like me – someone with a browser?

I got a degree in nuclear engineering but went into the space and then the power industry when the nuclear industry when down the tubes.

My instruction set this morning has been to disguise myself as someone else and wave the foreign flag for nukleor energy. My best assignment has-been, to make gasoline (our fave) with nukleor power. This may sound strange but why bother with expensive batteries when youcan build a nukleor plant to make electricity to make gasoline from our biggest enemy CO2. I love my job 'cause it presents challenges like these that would otherwise remain with my fellows in the re-education thru labor camps.

"If you can overcome your fear of the atom, a new green world will unfold for you."

Probably because the structure of organic matter is atom-less.

Every day, as I drive about my daily routine, I see biomass everywhere. But how do we harvest all this stuff, and transport it to process plants? If we can work that out, putting process plants next to nuclear power plants would be a great idea.

You could use low-level waste heat that would otherwise just heat up lakes and rivers, to help in the process of breaking down cellulose and hemicellulose into five and six-carbon sugars for subsequent fermentation into ethanol. You could use hot water or steam from even the light water reactors we have now, to distill water-ethanol solutions into concentrated ethanol.

C2H5OH isn't all that great as an airplane fuel, because of its low volumetric and gravimetric heat value when burned. However, with properly designed and constructed engines, you could mix ethanol with a little gasoline and utilize that for some aviation purposes, like flight training.

If we can develop algae that can convert atmospheric CO2 and moisture into fatty acid triglycerides, you could process said substances into high-quality Diesel or aviation turbine fuels. Again, you could use nuclear-generated heat to help the process along.

But whatever: I don't care to see people crying in their wine about the problem of storing nuclear waste for all eternity, and then advocating that we predicate continuing use of coal on storing trillions of tons of carbon dioxide for all eternity. Heck, can you imagine the massive casualties and problems that would occur if all that CO2 were to be turned loose?

Radioactive waste may be much more toxic on a pound-for-pound basis, but there is also a lot less of it with nuclear power than there is CO2 with coal.

What fuel? they are looking into many if I read it correct. What effect if any will these have on Fuel Injector Systems, Ignition, Annular Combustors and they down stream HPT and LPT's.? What are the fuel outputs, and if less BTU's do you then "push" the engine to make up for it and still maintain reliability?
Stationary gas turbines run on everything from landfill gas and natural gas to fuel oil. Low-BTU fuels can be fired in gas turbines, including blast furnace gas.

wave the foreign flag for nukleor energy

I am grateful to China because of the following:

• They are far way on the other side of the earth where any fallout from an accident is mitigated by distance before it gets to the US.

• They don’t have an obstructionist environmental movement against nuclear development.

• They don’t have a litigious legal system.

• Their leadership has an engineering bent and will take prudent risk.

• They will debug and perfect nuclear systems as no cost to the US.

• They have a nuclear infrastructure with many qualified scientist and engineers.

• Their top design priority is safety.

The best way to insure that a system is safe is to have many systems in operation for a long time with no problems. China will do that for us.

This may sound strange but why bother with expensive batteries when youcan build a nukleor plant to make electricity to make gasoline from our biggest enemy CO2

IMHO, the most effective and efficient fuel for a car is on board electric storage (hopefully EESTOR), but for an aircraft, it is jet fuel, the topic of this post.


I too worked in the power systems world early. As a nuclear turbine engineer and thermodynamicist.

I also joined as a charter member, the Union of Concerned Scientists. We saw the way nuclear fission was being handled and misused, and didn't like it.

Back then, there was sloppy construction standards; no thorough testing of LOCA components and real, genuine LOCA systems tests; little regulation; lots of cheer leading; and no scientific assessment of the risks against a LOCA situation.

We wanted reform not abandonment, of the technology. Nuclear is/was chosen by dozens of Utilities back in the 60s and early 70s; it was cheaper when oil was $3.00 a barrel and coal equivalently inexpensive.

It is still the cheapest by far, when construction schedules can be maintained.

Then the mindless mob-organizers, chanters, took over.

We critics created and used those legal stalling techniques review and correct and also, to stall and to bankrupt the worst nuclear projects. Then the mob-organizers and chanters such as Nader, used and abused the tool to oppose good, as well as bad projects, indiscriminately.

Thank God for Mr. Bush's efforts to cut the abuse of legal stalling for no reason, with his reforms in the Energy Acts of 2001 and 2005.

It is great to have a an Adult politician in charge, that made the tough decisions; even if the credit would come long after he was gone. Mr. Bush made the choices that have enabled the so-called Nuclear Renaissance to occur. Thirty Four new large Nuclear plants are in the early process of being constructed in the US alone. That single accomplishment will reduce US CO2 nationwide emissions by some 15%, to those that care about such things.

Other nations are already following. Germany and Britain are reconsidering, India and China are going full bore nuclear. Others like Italy and Spain are still in the preliminaries of reconsidering their previous opposition.

Three Mile Island and the response to it, forced the addressing of all the concerns of the sincere critics.

a) NRC was created and divorced from the cheer leading AEC.
b) WASH-100 calibrated and measured the real risks of a LOCA.
c) Vigilant construction monitoring, by the NRC, cured the sloppy construction problems.
d) Vigilant operational monitoring by the NRC, and the willingness to impose needed improvements ensure the plants continue to operate safely.

But it wasn't until GEN III+ nuclear designs that were mandated by Mr. Bush and his NRC, which forced designs that operate with an entirely passive response to a LOCA.

That forced redesign, made plants you could walk away from, just like the passive pebble beds. The precertification process ensures that the designs are thoroughly reviewed with little political pressure for too rapid decision making.

Unlike the safely operating present nuclear plants, GEN III+ nuclear LWRs are impossible to meltdown. GEN III+ "China Syndromes" are now an impossible fantasy.

I still had my reservation, until then. And frankly still have them for fast breeders.

I just don't think you can design as safe, a fast spectrum reactor.

For complete 'Actinide Burning' the coming Fusion plants, can do that job better than any breeder you can envision, and much simpler and safer, too.

It would be another attractive reason to build the first Fusion plants too. In the long term, Fusion is much to be preferred over any Fission plants of whatever design, and breeders in particular.

Now that the reforms and re-designs have been done, sincere critics such as Patrick Moore, and myself, can support GEN III+ LWRs wholeheartedly. As Lord Keynes said: "When facts change, I change my opinion. What about you, sir?"

Pebble beds are GEN IV designs. It is 15 years from mature complete designs that can be ordered by a Utility. When they become available, and then go through the several year process of precertification, then these might be the ONLY fast breeder designs that I might support. None of the other fast breeder proposals seem to have the prospects of enough safety margins.

That leaves the problem of: What to do with Radioactive Waste?

'Actinide Burning' is the name applied to the solution.

Disposing of the long lived transuranics, transmuting them into elements that are safe in a few hundred years is the key to waste disposal.

The French have not politically postured, and denied recycling, for the "Spirit of Non-Proliferation". They have designed their EPWRs for Mixed Oxide, MOX, fuels and even for transuranic cycling too. They burn plutonium and have even pioneered 'Actinide Burning' in their LWRs.

I don't believe in pie-in-the-sky government promises, such as to build a fast breeder for "Actinide Burning" that would cost several billion dollars, and take years of development. Even though the Utilities paid for the reactor, as they have already done. The government is notorious for not following through.

Use the new GEN III+ reactors for at least part of that 'actinide burning' job, while they also make electricity, as the French pioneered. Simply putting a few "fuel rods" of transuranics in place of normal fuel rods is all that it really takes. In normal operations neutrons will transmute the transuranics into other elements and isotopes, that have shorter half-lives.

So what if it isn't as efficient as a fast spectrum breeder? We have almost a half century of life in the dozens of new reactors being ordered. Let the NRC pay the Utilities for transmutation in LWRs from the waste disposal fund for the small reductions in electricity production,as they eliminate some high level waste that the government is being paid to dispose of.

Reprocessing, being able to separate the unburned fissile materials, and now also the transuranics, is necessary. I would even prefer a chartered non-governmental firm to do that, rather than the government. The job would get done, at least.

Or pay the French or Japanese to do it, in their reprocessing plants. Or charter a UN organization to do it to insure non-proliferation, and to even give the UN a financial base of funding.

This would let us separate and burn fissile transuranics as MOX, and transmute pure non-fissile transuranics in the cores of LWRs. Reprocessing and 'actinide burning' would reduce the waste to about 3800 tons from 38000 tons or by 90%. And shorten the time to safety to a few hundred years, instead of thousands of years.

To say that in all the world, we can't find the room for a single basketball court filled with high level waste, of 3800 tons, is absurd political posturing.

The opponents, the masters of such posturing, have mobilized the NIMBY to oppose the 70,000 ton capacity Yucca Mountain mine. That Mountain and the mine deep in its interior is a mountain at the rim of and overlooking Death Valley. Its large enough with reprocessing and actinide burning to be the only site in the World for the duration of the fission era. And be as safe as natural uranium ores in a few hundred years.

(How many actually live there, or is the local opposition really a phantom?)

Opposition to reprocessing exists based on the "fear" that some highly radioactive materials might be stolen and refined to make a bomb. This fanciful possibility is pushed, even as the LWRs will be able to inceinerate forever, 12,000 to 15,000 pits of nuclear bombs left over from the Cold War.

Once again what is better. Actually leaving the guts of 15,000 nuclear weapons lying around; or worrying that someone might steal some ill suited materials that after a national effort to refine it, might be able to construct a bomb? Build the new LWRs and then incinerate 15,000 nuclear bombs forever more, is the obvious answer to me.

Opposition is a triumph of posturing over reality. What else would you expect of political know-nothings?

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