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Alternative Fuels and Biofuels for Aircraft Development

Periodic Report Summary 1 - ALFA-BIRD (Alternative Fuels and Biofuels for Aircraft Development)

Alternative fuels and biofuels for aircraft development (ALFA-BIRD) is a project co-funded under the European Commission (EC)'s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for Research and technological development (RTD), started in July 2008. ALFA-BIRD is a Research and development (R&D) project aiming at viable technical solutions. Its objective is to investigate and develop a variety of alternative fuels for the use of 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 is 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 gathers a multidisciplinary consortium with key industrial partners from aeronautics (engine manufacturers, aircraft manufacturers) and fuel industry, and research organisations covering a large spectrum of expertise in fields of biochemistry, combustion as well as industrial safety. Bringing together their knowledge, the consortium will develop the whole chain for clean alternative fuels for aviation. The most promising solutions will be 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 up to 5 new fuels will be 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;
- modelling 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 characterisation of the 12 blends were used for the final selection of the 4 fuels that will be tested in the second phase (tests on engine components). The 4 fuels selected are 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 will be used to prepare the environmental and economic impact assessment, which will be the basis for the elaboration of the future strategy for the use of alternative fuels for aircraft.

In terms of management, the project has a slight delay, due to the late provision and selection of the alternative fuels. The steering committee is well aware of the situation and has estimated at the last physical meeting of the period (on 27 November 2009) that this delay should not have a major impact on the achievement of the final objectives.

ALFA-BIRD is collaborating with several other European and International projects:

- SWAFEA study (DG TREN).
- DREAM, SP5 (FP7 project).
- CAAFI (United States initiative).
- OMEGA & ECATS (national projects).

Representatives of all these projects have been invited to the ALFA-BIRD workshop in July 2009, and will be invited again at the next one, to continue scientific exchanges.

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