Wings Magazine

NRC seeks to establish facility for alternate fuels R&D

Facility would help companies demonstrate, bring to market, technologies with less impact on the environment.

January 9, 2008
By Carey Fredericks

Facility would help companies demonstrate, bring to market, technologies with less impact on the environment

conceptual drawing of NRC's Gas Turbine Laboratory facilities showing
fuel tanks (left foreground) and combustion test cells (yellow doors)
planned under the AFFORD initiative.

the next three years, the National Research Council Canada Institute
for Aerospace Research (NRC Aerospace) is proposing to build an
Alternate Fuel Facility for Research and Development (AFFORD) at its
Gas Turbine Laboratory in Ottawa. The facility would address a
comprehensive range of alternate fuels from ethanol in aviation engines
and gas turbines to biodiesels and syngas or hydrogen-enriched fuels in
gas turbine combustion systems. AFFORD would allow NRC staff to carry
out basic research and would provide a technology demonstration
environment to help companies bring their products to market.

According to Bob Hastings, Director of the NRC Aerospace Gas
Turbine Laboratory, "NRC has used its facilities in the past to help
companies develop a variety of low emission technologies for gas
turbine engines in the aviation and energy sectors. In 1996, we
successfully tested Orenda's biomass engine, a 2.5 megawatt gas turbine
that was a very early, perhaps the first in the world to run on liquid
biofuel oil. We would use the same approach with alternate fuels that
we have found so successful in transitioning environmental technologies
using conventional fuels."


Only three such facilities exist in North America.
NRC's facilities, which would be available to everyone, would equal or
better their performance characteristics and be able to handle a full
range of end-use products. Two new combustion test cells would be built
next to NRC's two existing test cells, for use in full-scale testing,
and tanks to hold nitrogen, hydrogen and
carbon monoxide will be installed. The other components would include a newly recommissioned altitude test facility and a research-scale
hydrogen combustion facility. NRC would also install burners to treat
any exhaust gases to ensure they are as clean as possible when released
into the environment.

Hastings stated, "A facility such as this one can be established very quickly because we've got everything we need."

AFFORD would help companies develop technologies for a wide
range of alternate fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel,
syngas/hydrogen-enriched fuels, and coal liquefaction. The latter is
particularly promising as clean coal processes now exist to
significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from today's coal-fired
power generating plants. Working closely with industry, NRC would
research, validate, and improve these technologies in its new
facilities, then help companies take them to market.

To ensure that engines survive in the new environment, new
coating materials will be required. NRC is also spearheading an
initiative involving ten universities across the country to develop
computational fluid dynamics (CFD) capabilities that can deal with the
new combustion processes.

Several companies have expressed interest in working with NRC
should the AFFORD initiative materialize. They include Rolls Royce
Canada Industrial Gas Turbines, GE Energy, and Pratt & Whitney
whose interest lie in increasing ethanol usage in aviation engines. A
variety of smaller energy-related companies have also expressed an
interest in using these facilities.

"I believe we could make a real difference in getting
technology into the marketplace that would significantly reduce
emissions," said
Hastings. "The facilities would be very important but what's equally, or more important, is that our people, and their research capabilities, allow us to do technology demonstrations particularly well. We've worked closely
with industry for many years. We know their needs and meet their
timelines. We've done this work with conventional fuels; applying our
expertise to alternative fuels would be a low-risk endeavour."

Recognized globally for research and innovation, the National
Research Council Canada (NRC) is a leader in the development of an
innovative, knowledge-based economy for
Canadathrough science and technology.  The NRC Institute for Aerospace Research is Canada's
national aerospace laboratory, undertaking and promoting research and
technology development in support of the Canadian aerospace community
in matters affecting the design, manufacture, performance, use and
safety of aerospace vehicles.