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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

United Airlines invests $30M in Fulcrum BioEnergy; renewable jet fuel offtake agreement, potential joint development of production

June 30, 2015

United Airlines made a $30-million equity investment in US-based Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc., the developer of a process for converting municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel. (Earlier post.) The investment is so far the largest single investment by a US airline in alternative fuels.

In addition to the equity investment, United and Fulcrum have entered into an agreement that contemplates the joint development of up to five projects located near United’s hubs expected to have the potential to produce up to 180 million gallons of fuel per year.

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Boeing ecoDemonstrator 757 expands testing; green diesel blend, energy harvesting windows, 3D-printed flight deck component

June 20, 2015

Boeing announced the next phase in ecoDemonstrator 757 testing today, including its first flight with US-made “green diesel” (earlier post) and two new environment-related technologies. These developments advance the ecoDemonstrator program's mission to accelerate the testing and use of technologies to improve aviation's environmental performance.

In cooperation with NASA, the 757 flew on 17 June 17 from Seattle to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., using a blend of 95% petroleum jet fuel and 5% sustainable green diesel, a renewable drop-in bio-hydrocarbon fuel meeting ASTM International’s standard for Diesel Fuel Oils (D-975). Boeing is working with the aviation industry to approve green diesel for commercial aviation by amending the HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters And Fatty Acids) biojet specification approved in 2011.

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Etihad Airways and partners launch roadmap for sustainable aviation biofuels in UAE

June 18, 2015

Etihad Airways, together with Boeing, Total, Takreer and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, launched a joint industry roadmap for the sustainable production of aviation biofuels in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The BIOjet Abu Dhabi: Flight Path to Sustainability report outlines a set of recommended industry actions to create a commercially viable domestic aviation biofuel industry—a first for the Middle East. (Earlier post, earlier post.)

The BIOjet Abu Dhabi roadmap is the culmination of a year-long dialogue between Etihad Airways, its four BIOjet Abu Dhabi partners, and UAE and global stakeholders. It explains Abu Dhabi’s potential to produce aviation biofuel locally, in a sustainable way, taking account of all elements of the supply chain from feedstock supplies to biorefining and distribution.

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New catalytic method for converting algal oil to gasoline- or jet-fuel-range hydrocarbons

June 16, 2015

A new catalytic method for converting algal oil to gasoline- or jet-fuel-range hydrocarbons has been developed by the research group of Prof. Keiichi Tomishige and Dr. Yoshinao Nakagawa from Tohoku University’s Department of Applied Chemistry, and Dr. Hideo Watanabe from the University of Tsukuba.

The new method uses a highly dispersed ruthenium catalyst supported on cerium oxide. Squalane (C30H62)—easily obtained by the hydrogenation of squalene (C30H50) rapidly produced by the heterotrophic alga Aurantiochytrium from organics in wastewater—reacts with hydrogen over this catalyst, producing smaller branched alkanes with simple distribution and without aromatics. These molecules have high stability and low freezing points. A paper describing the system is published in the journal ChemSusChem.

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EBI ketone condensation process for drop-in jet fuel or lubricant base oil from biomass; up to 80% lifecycle GHG savings

Researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership led by the University of California (UC) Berkeley that includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and BP, have developed a new method for producing drop-in aviation fuel as well as automotive lubricant base oils from sugarcane biomass. The strategy behind the process could also be applied to biomass from other non-food plants and agricultural waste that are fermented by genetically engineered microbes, the researchers said.

The catalytic process, described in an open-access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), selectively upgrades alkyl methyl ketones derived from sugarcane biomass into trimer condensates with better than 95% yields. These condensates are then hydro-deoxygenated into a new class of cycloalkane compounds that contain a cyclohexane ring and a quaternary carbon atom. These cycloalkane compounds can be tailored for the production of either jet fuel, or automotive lubricant base oils, resulting in products with superior cold-flow properties, density and viscosity that could achieve net life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 80%, depending upon the optimization conditions.

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EPA takes first steps toward regulating commercial aviation GHGs with endangerment finding under CAA

June 11, 2015

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to find under section 231(a) of the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from commercial aircraft engines endanger the health and welfare of Americans by contributing to climate change. At the same time, the agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that provides information on the process for setting international CO2 emissions standards for aircraft at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and describes and seeks input on the potential use of section 231 of the Clean Air Act to adopt a corresponding standard domestically.

The finding applies to GHG emissions from engines used in US subsonic jet aircraft with a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) greater than 5,700 kilograms and in subsonic propeller driven (e.g., turboprop) aircraft with a MTOM greater than 8,618 kilograms. Examples of covered aircraft would include smaller jet aircraft such as the Cessna Citation CJ2+ and the Embraer E170, up to and including the largest jet aircraft: the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747. Other examples of covered aircraft would include larger turboprop aircraft, such as the ATR 72 and the Bombardier Q400. The actions do not apply to small piston-engine planes or to military aircraft.

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Gevo’s cellulosic alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel to be used in NARA test flight; “wood-to-wing”

June 04, 2015

Gevo, Inc. announced a development in its fermentation technology that will allow it to produce isobutanol from cellulosic feedstocks such as wood waste; the isobutanol can then be converted into Gevo’s alcohol-to-jet fuel. In 2011, the company was awarded $5 million from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the development of biojet fuel from woody biomass and forest product residues. (Earlier post.)

Gevo is a member of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) and is providing the organization with technology to enable the commercial scale processing of cellulosic sugars from wood waste into valuable products. The cellulosic jet fuel made using Gevo’s technologies will be used in a 1,000-gallon renewable fuel demonstration test flight by Alaska Airlines that NARA announced yesterday. Gevo’s isobutanol and ATJ-SPK technologies are both planned to be licensed by NARA as part of this project.

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Fulcrum Bioenergy awards $200M EPC contract to Abengoa for MSW-to-jet plant

May 07, 2015

Fulcrum BioEnergy has awarded a $200-million fixed-price engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract to Abengoa for the construction of Fulcrum’s first municipal solid waste (MSW) to transportation fuels facility, the Sierra BioFuels Plant. The Sierra BioFuels Plant will utilize Fulcrum’s process for converting MSW into renewable syncrude that will then be upgraded to jet fuel. (Earlier post.)

The Fulcrum process begins with the gasification of the organic material in the MSW feedstock to a synthesis gas (syngas) which consists primarily of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This syngas is purified and processed through the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process to produce a syncrude product which is then upgraded to jet fuel or diesel.

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WSU team engineers fungus to produce jet-range hydrocarbons from biomass

May 06, 2015

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Aspergillus carbonarius. Source: JGI MycoCosm. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Washington State University have engineered the filamentous fungus Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to produce jet-range hydrocarbons directly from biomass. The researchers hope the work, reported in the journal Fungal Biology, leads to economically viable production of aviation biofuels in the next five years.

The team led by Birgitte Ahring, director and Battelle distinguished professor of the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at WSU Tri-cities, found that the production of hydrocarbons was dependent on the type of media used. Therefore, they tested ten different carbon sources (oatmeal, wheat bran, glucose, carboxymethyl cellulose, avicel, xylan, corn stover, switch grass, pretreated corn stover, and pretreated switch grass) to identify the maximum number and quantity of hydrocarbons produced.

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SOLARJET demonstrates full process for thermochemical production of renewable jet fuel from H2O & CO2

April 28, 2015

The European consortium SOLARJET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) (earlier post) has experimentally demonstrated the entire process chain for the first production of renewable jet fuel via a thermochemical H2O/CO2-splitting cycle using simulated concentrated solar radiation.

The solar-to-fuel energy conversion efficiency was 1.72%, without sensible heat recovery. A total of 291 stable redox cycles were performed, yielding 700 standard liters of syngas of composition 33.7% H2, 19.2% CO, 30.5% CO2, 0.06% O2, 0.09% CH4, and 16.5% Ar, which was compressed to 150 bar and further processed via Fischer–Tropsch synthesis to a mixture of naphtha, gasoil, and kerosene. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

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NASA-led analysis characterizes the impact of jet fuel composition on emitted aerosols

April 03, 2015

Using data gathered during four different, comprehensive ground tests conducted over the past decade, researchers from NASA and their colleagues have statistically analyzed the impact of jet fuel properties on aerosols emitted by the NASA Douglas DC-8 CFM56-2-C1 engines burning 15 different aviation fuels. The analysis, reported in a paper in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, linked changes in aerosol emissions to fuel compositional changes.

Among the results was the finding that reducing both fuel sulfur content and naphthalenes to near-zero levels would result in roughly a 10-fold decrease in aerosol number emitted per kilogram of fuel burned. The study can inform future efforts to model aircraft emissions changes as the aviation fleet gradually begins to transition toward low-aromatic, low-sulfur alternative jet fuels from bio-based or Fischer–Tropsch production pathways.

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HRL developing a new material for hypersonic vehicles; proof-of-concept for DARPA MDP program

HRL Laboratories, LLC (formerly Hughes Research Labs) will be developing new materials for hypersonic vehicles under the Materials Development for Platforms (MDP) program through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA-BAA-14-52). These new materials aim to reduce the weight and cost of vehicle aeroshells while withstanding the extreme environment encountered during hypersonic flight.

Currently, the applied material development sequence takes 10+ years. This is out of step with vehicle programs with much shorter design cycles, limiting new aerospace platforms from using new materials until they are proven. The goal of DARPA’s MDP program is to connect designers and material developers together more effectively and to compress this applied material development process by at least 75% to 2.5 years using a hypersonic vehicle’s aerodynamic outer shell (boost-glide hot structure aeroshell) as the initial test case.

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Navy researchers produce 100% bio-derived high-density renewable diesel and jet by blending sesquiterpanes with synthetic paraffinic kerosene

March 06, 2015

A team at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) at China Lake has produced 100% bio-derived high-density renewable diesel and jet fuels by blending multicyclic sesquiterpanes with a synthetic paraffinic kerosene (5-methylundecane). The resulting renewable fuels have densities and net heats of combustion higher than petroleum-based fuels while maintaining cetane numbers high enough (between 45 and 57) for use in conventional diesel engines.

The team said that its results show that full-performance and even ultra-performance fuels can be generated by combining bio-derived sesquiterpanes and paraffins. All components can be generated from biomass sugars by a combination of fermentation and chemical catalysis which may allow for their production at industrially relevant scale, they noted. An open access paper on the work has been accepted for publication in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

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Neste Oil now the world’s largest producer of renewable fuels from waste and residues

March 05, 2015

Over the last few years, Neste Oil has become the world’s largest producer of renewable fuels from waste and residues. In 2014, the company produced nearly 1.3 million tonnes (1.6 billion liters, 423 million gallons US) of renewable fuel from waste and residues. In practical terms, this is enough to power for two years all the 650,000 diesel-powered passenger cars in Finland with NEXBTL renewable diesel manufactured from waste and residues.

Examples of Neste Oil’s waste and residue-based raw materials include animal and fish fats; used cooking oil; and various residues generated during vegetable oil refining such as palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD) and technical corn oil. These raw materials accounted for 62% of Neste Oil’s renewable inputs in 2014 (52% in 2013, 35% in 2012).

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Boeing, Embraer open joint aviation biofuel research center in Brazil

January 15, 2015

Boeing and Embraer have opened a joint sustainable aviation biofuel research center in a collaborative effort to further establish the aviation biofuel industry in Brazil.

At the Boeing-Embraer Joint Research Center in the São José dos Campos Technology Park, the companies will coordinate and co-fund research with Brazilian universities and other institutions. The research will focus on technologies that address gaps in creating a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Brazil, such as feedstock production, techno-economic analysis, economic viability studies and processing technologies.

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Cambridge team successfully tests hybrid light aircraft; 30% fuel savings

December 23, 2014

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Hybrid in flight. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, in association with Boeing, have successfully tested a light aircraft powered by a parallel hybrid-electric propulsion system, in which an electric motor and gasoline engine work together to drive the propeller. The demonstrator aircraft—based on a single-seat, ultralight Song motor glider—uses up to 30% less fuel than a comparable plane with a gasoline-only engine. The aircraft is also able to recharge its batteries in flight, the first time this has been achieved.

The hybrid system was designed and built by engineers at Cambridge with Boeing funding support. The hybrid aircraft uses a combination of a ~7 kW Honda 4-stroke piston engine and a 10 kW electric motor/generator, coupled through the same drive pulley to spin the propeller. The hybrid system delivers approximately the same power as the standard engine for the Song—a 15 kW Bailey V5 single-cylinder 4-stroke.

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Boeing conducts world’s first flight with 15% blend of NExBTL renewable diesel as aviation biofuel

December 04, 2014

Boeing has completed the world’s first flight using “green diesel,” a renewable, drop-in hydrocarbon biofuel that is widely available and used in ground transportation. The company powered its ecoDemonstrator 787 flight test airplane with a blend of 15% NExBTL renewable diesel from Neste Oil and 85% petroleum jet fuel in the left engine. (Neste Oil can also produce a NExBTL synthetic paraffinic kerosene as a discrete, and already approved, commercial aviation fuel.)

Boeing previously found that renewable diesel is chemically similar to HEFA (hydro-processed esters and fatty acids) aviation biofuel approved in 2011. With a renewable diesel production capacity of 800 million gallons (3 billion liters) in the US, Europe and Asia, the on-road fuel could rapidly supply as much as 1% of global jet fuel demand. With a wholesale cost of about $3 per gallon, inclusive of US government incentives, green diesel approaches price parity with petroleum jet fuel.

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Lifecycle analysis of Amyris renewable jet from sugar cane finds “substantial potential” to mitigate GHG emissions, but a wide range of potential outcomes

November 25, 2014

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Monte Carlo results for the net life cycle emissions of the renewable jet fuel from sugar cane. Credit: ACS, Moreira et al.. Click to enlarge.

Brazilian researchers evaluating the lifecycle GHG emissions of a renewable jet fuel produced from sugar cane in Brazil using Amyris’ proprietary technology platform (earlier post) found that the farnesane-based renewable fuel presents “a substantial potential” to mitigate the GHG emissions of the aviation sector. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In their base case, the researchers calculated a “rather optimistic” GHG footprint of 8.5g CO2eq/MJ; lifecycle emissions of fossil jet fuel usually lie within the 80−95g CO2eq/MJ range. However, they noted, the estimation is highly uncertain, with a number of factors—especially related to electricity exports, sugar cane farming itself, and agrochemicals production and use—significantly affect the outcome. The results of the Monte Carlo analysis indicate life cycle emissions of 21 ± 11 g CO2eq/MJ (mean ± SD), with substantial influence from the LUC factor.

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Researchers develop JP-8 enzymatic biofuel cell; electricity from alkanes under mild conditions

November 05, 2014

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Representative schematic of hardware employed for testing of a complete biofuel cell. Credit: ACS, Ulyanova et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from the University of Utah and CFD Research Corporation (CFDRC) reports the first bioelectrocatalysis of alkanes to produce electricity. In an paper published in the journal ACS Catalysis, they describe the use of a two-enzyme cascade in an enzymatic biofuel cell to oxidize hexane, octane and then JP-8, a jet fuel (C6-C16) comprising a mixture of alkanes.

An enzymatic biofuel cell contains many of the same components as a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell—i.e., anode, cathode, and separator. However, instead of metallic electrocatalysts at the anode and the cathode, the enzymatic biofuel cell uses enzymes as the catalysts. The enzyme cascade reported in this new work is efficient, sulfur-tolerant, and produces power densities up to 3 mW/cm2 in a JP-8 enzymatic biofuel cell at room temperature without preprocessing of the fuel—as opposed to traditional metal catalysts which require fuel pre-processing. This output is comparable to high power density sugar and alcohol biofuel cells, the researchers said.

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Neste Oil de-emphasizing microbial oil R&D for renewable diesel; seeking other uses for cellulosic biomass

October 07, 2014

Neste Oil, the producer of NExBTL renewable diesel, is realigning its long-term R&D and switching from an emphasis on research into the production of microbial oil as a feedstock for NExBTL renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel (earlier post) to other areas of technology for using cellulosic forestry and agricultural waste, due in part to feedstock cost issues.

Despite the decision to de-emphasize microbial oil, Neste Oil emphasized that cellulosic waste will continue to play an important role in its research strategy, adding that it remains committed to its goal of further extending its feedstock base and making greater use of waste and residues in this area in particular.

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Southwest Airlines signs purchase agreement with Red Rock Biofuels for renewable jet fuel from forest residues; ~3M gallons per year

September 24, 2014

Southwest Airlines has signed an agreement with Red Rock Biofuels LLC (RRB) to purchase low carbon renewable jet fuel, made using forest residues that will help reduce the risk of destructive wildfires in the Western United States. The airline’s agreement with RRB covers the purchase of approximately three million gallons per year. The blended product will be used at Southwest’s Bay Area operations with first delivery expected in 2016.

RRB’s first plant will convert approximately 140,000 dry tons of woody biomass feedstock into at least 12 million gallons per year of renewable jet, diesel, and naphtha fuels. The company recently received a $70-million grant under phase 2 of the US Defense Production Act Title III Advanced Drop-in Biofuels project for construction of the facility, which will also produce mil-spec fuels. (Earlier post.)

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California Energy Commission awards $5M grant to AltAir Fuels to expand renewable diesel production; $3M to GFP Ethanol for sorghum feedstock

September 11, 2014

The California Energy Commission approved $8 million in grants to two biofuel companies stemming from a solicitation issued earlier this year (PON-13-609: Pilot-Scale and Commercial-Scale Advanced Biofuels Production Facilities).

AltAir Fuels LLC (earlier post) will receive $5 million to expand production of renewable diesel fuels at its Paramount facility in Los Angeles County from 30 million gallons per year to 40 million gallons per year, and allow for processing of additional feedstocks. This facility will also co-produce renewable jet at commercial scale and a byproduct chemical and gasoline component. GFP Ethanol is receiving $3 million to support the development of sorghum as a feedstock for lower carbon intensity ethanol.

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USDA closes on $105M loan guarantee to Fulcrum for biorefinery converting municipal waste to renewable jet fuel; first USDA loan for biojet

September 04, 2014

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has closed on a $105-million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee through Bank of America, N.A. to Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels, LLC to build a biorefinery to produce jet fuel from municipal solid waste (MSW) via a proprietary two-stage thermochemical process. (Earlier post.)

USDA Rural Development’s loan guarantee represents less than half of the $266 million project cost. The plant is expected to produce 11 million gallons of fuel annually. This is the first loan guarantee USDA has made for the production of bio jet fuel.

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Cathay Pacific Airways makes strategic equity investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy; MSW to biojet; 375M gallon supply agreement

August 08, 2014

Cathay Pacific Airways has made a strategic equity investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy—a pioneer in the development and commercialization of converting municipal solid waste (MSW) into sustainable aviation fuel (earlier post)—as part of the airline’s biofuel strategy and to help it achieve a target of carbon-neutral growth from 2020. Cathay Pacific, which also has an option for further investment, is the first airline investor in the sustainable biofuel developer.

Cathay Pacific has also negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum for an initial 375 million gallons US of sustainable aviation fuel over 10 years (representing on an annual basis approximately 2% of the airline’s current fuel consumption) that meets all the airline’s technical requirements and specifications.

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Boeing partners with South African Airways to convert Solaris energy tobacco into jet fuel

August 07, 2014

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Solaris energy tobacco is optimized for seed production for energy applications, not leaf production. Click to enlarge.

Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG are collaborating to make sustainable aviation biofuel from Solaris, a new hybrid tobacco plant optimized for seed production for energy applications. This initiative broadens cooperation between Boeing and SAA to develop renewable jet fuel in ways that support South Africa’s goals for public health as well as economic and rural development.

Solaris is a new, non-GMO, high-seed tobacco variety protected by patents, the rights to which are held by Sunchem Holdings in Italy, which is partnering with US-based Tyton BioEnergy Systems on its testing and deployment. Solaris maximizes the production of flowers and seeds to the detriment of the leaves production, and biomass for biogas production. The plant is extremely robust, and is able to grow in various climates and soils. One hectare of Solaris can deliver an average seed yield of 4 to 10 tonnes with multiple harvests per year (depending on climate conditions). The seed contains around 40% oil.

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Continental Motors introduces new diesel V-6 aviation engine

August 02, 2014

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The new CD-300 engine made its debut in Oshkosh. Click to enlarge.

Continental Motors introduced the CD-300, its new V-6 diesel engine, at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh this week. The CD-300 was flown for the first time in July at Continental’s German development center in Altenburg onboard an Cirrus airframe. The company said that the flying test-bed exhibited rates of climb and cruise performance that exceeded engineer’s expectations.

The CD-300 features common rail technology, direct injection, turbo charging, liquid cooling, and an advanced reduction gear system. Like the smaller CD-100 engine, the CD-300 is based on a Mercedes-Benz automotive core adapted for aviation use. In interviews at AirVenture, Continental Motors president Rhett Ross suggested that the company would begin to deviate from focusing on an exclusive automotive-derived approach.

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Researchers synthesize diesel- and jet-range cycloalkanes from lignocellulosic platform compounds

July 18, 2014

Researchers at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, have synthesized, for the first time, a mixture of C9−C15 branched alkanes and cycloalkanes with relatively higher density from 2-Methylfuran (2-MF) and cyclopentanone (CPO)—selective hydrogenation products of furfural, which can be produced in industrial scale with lignocellulose.

Most work done so far with lignocellulose-based platform compounds has concentrated on the production of diesel (C9−C21) or jet fuel (C8−C16) range straight-chain alkanes and/or branched-chain alkanes, the team notes in their paper in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels. Although those alkanes have good thermal stability and excellent combustion efficiency, their lower densities require blending with conventional jet fuel (a mixture of straight-chain alkanes, branched-chain alkanes, and cyclic hydrocarbons) to meet the specifications of aviation fuel.

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Alcoa unveils first aluminum alloy fan blade forging for jet engines; $1.1B supply agreement w/ Pratt & Whitney

July 14, 2014

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Click to enlarge.

Under a new 10-year, $1.1-billion agreement, Alcoa will supply key parts for Pratt & Whitney’s jet engines, including the forging for the first aluminum fan blade for jet engines. The forging was developed for Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower engines using an advanced aluminum alloy and a proprietary manufacturing process. Also for the PurePower engines, Alcoa is developing a fan blade forging using its most advanced aluminum-lithium alloy.

Under the $1.1 billion deal, Alcoa will supply components for Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1000G, V2500, GP7000 and several other regional jet and military engines. The unique Geared Turbofan architecture of the PurePower engine allows for aluminum alloys to be used in the Pratt & Whitney designed fan blades, making the engine lighter, as well as more fuel and cost efficient.

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