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RCAF jumps on green bandwagon with biofuel test flight

May 30, 2012, Trenton, Ont. - The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) successfully flew a CC-130H Hercules aircraft using a semi-synthetic jet fuel, blended with plant-sourced oil, for the first time on May 23, 2012 at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario.


May 30, 2012
By Carey Fredericks

Under the technical guidance and support of the Department of National Defence’s Quality Engineering Test Establishment (QETE), this demonstration flight tested the efficacy of a blended jet fuel with 50 per cent F-34 and 50 per cent fuel derived from Camelina plant.

“F-34 [also known as JP-8] is the jet fuel used by NATO countries including Canada,” said Mr. Pierre Poitras of QETE. “During this flight demonstration, we tested the suitability of an alternative jet fuel using Camelina-derived fuel blended with F-34 as substitute or replacement for conventional aviation fuel. We’re happy with the results,” he added.

The bio fuel demonstration flight started with a 24-hour leak check and followed by almost two hours of flight on 424 (Transport) Squadron’s Legacy Hercules aircraft.

According to 424 Squadron pilot Major (Maj) Wayne Sippola, they flew the aircraft 100 miles to the North from 8 Wing Trenton, then South to Sandbanks in Prince Edward County before landing back to the base.

“Various engine checks were conducted between the surface and 21,000 feet, including shutting down and air starting an engine on the bio fuel mix,” said Maj Sippola. “The bio fuel mix performed exactly like the straight F-34 fuel; we didn’t see any difference whatsoever,” he noted.

In September and October 2011, the semi-synthetic jet fuel was tested at 8 Wing on an engine that is compatible to the Legacy Hercules aircraft; i.e. Rolls-Royce/Allison T-56-A-15. The test was successful, which led to the flight testing that is needed for the certification of the Camelina fuel blend specification.

“This bio-jet fuel along with similar bio-crude materials has great potential to become a sustainable and renewable alternative to conventional fuel, which would provide flexibility to the Canadian Forces with respect to fuel security,” said Mr. Poitras.

The Legacy Hercules’ flight test on bio-jet fuel supports Canada’s industrial effort in producing alternate fuels and the CF’s commitment to adopt greener products.

“Our interoperability with NATO and US allies is of prime importance to CF operations,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Carter from the Directorate of Fuel and Lubricants. “Since our allies are exploring the use of bio-jet fuel, we also want to ensure that when our countries work together, then our equipment, handling processes, as well as the type of fuel that we use are interoperable,” he added.

Camelina sativa is an oil plant in the family Brassicaceae from the mustard family. It is a promising alternative to conventional fuel as it does now compete with the food chain simply because it is not part of any human or animal diet.

“This plant contains heavy concentration of lipids that when purified and refined, turns into a fuel like the crude oil that we extract from the ground,” said Mr. Poitras.

The oil extracted from Camelina plant goes through a purification process where all trace contaminants are removed followed with a refining process, called hydro-processing to remove oxygenate and nitrogen compounds and convert triglyceride materials into synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) of the same composition of conventional jet fuel made from crude oil extracted from the ground. This refining process can be potentially adapted to any refineries in Canada.

Plant-sourced jet fuel could be a promising new industry for Canadian farmers.

“Though Camelina plant is mostly grown in the United States, a similar type of plant called Brassica Carinata is found to be better suited for Canadian soil and climate,” said Mr. Poitras. “This plant is best cycled with canola and mustard plants that are farmed in Western Canada. Within 90 days, Carinata can be fully grown and you can actually extract lipids from this oilseeds plant and start producing the bio oil that can be refined into a jet fuel, it can also grow in poorer soils and it is heat tolerant.” he added.

A conventional jet fuel blended with plant-sourced fuel is better for the environment due to its potential for the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions.

“Carbon emission from aircraft engines is a function of the concentration of aromatic hydrocarbons allowed in conventional jet fuel. Bio-jet fuel SPKs derived Camelina or Carinata, does not contain any aromatic material, which basically reduces carbon emissions when blended with 50 per cent F-34, to meet the minimum aromatic concentration of the jet fuel specification” he said.

An aircraft engine requires at least 8 per cent aromatic hydrocarbon in order to work properly. A typical jet fuel has between 15 to 25 per cent maximum aromatic content. So when blended with Camelina fuel, which does not contain any aromatic material, the hydrocarbon content of the blended jet fuel becomes less than 10 per cent.

“Less aromatic substance in the jet fuel typically means less carbon emissions and soot formation,” he said. “We’ve seen up to 40 per cent decrease in carbon and particulate matter emissions by using alternative fuel that is blended 50 per cent with conventional fuel, so there’s quite a difference in the amount of pollutants being emitted,” he noted.

The success of the RCAF’s green flight test is a step forward to maximizing the potentials of plant-sourced alternative fuel to ensuring energy security and cleaner air.