EADS flies world’s first plane powered with biofuel based on algae at ILA

Berlin08 June 2010

  • Use of biofuel from algae leads to reduced fuel consumption
  • Emission of nitrogen and sulfur oxides reduced drastically
  • Opens up opportunities to achieve carbon neutral flights
  • No competition with food supply

At the ILA 2010 in Berlin, EADS is showcasing the world’s first flights of an aircraft powered by pure biofuel made from algae. A Diamond Aircraft DA42 New Generation powered by two Austro Engine AE300 engines takes part in the daily flight demonstrations

Due to the higher energy content of the algae biofuel, the fuel consumption of the Diamond DA42 New Generation is 1.5 litres per hour lower when compared to conventional JET-A1 fuel – while maintaining equal performance. Tests also proved that only relatively minor modifications and adjustments had to be made to the aircraft’s engines to qualify the biofuel from algae for the demonstration flights.

Algae are considered to be promising potential feedstock for biofuels, as certain species of algae contain high amounts of oil. This oil can be extracted, processed and refined for various uses. Grown for many years on a commercial basis for the development of products such as food supplements and cosmetics, microalgae have now emerged as one of the leading sources for alternative fuels. Microalgae reproduce rapidly and create at least 30 times more organic substance (biomass) per cultivation area than, for example, rapeseed. Their cultivation does not compete with food production. Algae can be grown on poor quality land using non potable or saltwater.

“Our pure bio fuel flight from algae is a world first and an exciting milestone in our research at EADS.” says Dr. Jean Botti, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of EADS. “This opens up the feasibility of carbon-neutral flights and we will continue to focus our research in this exciting area. Third generation biofuels are more than just a replacement for fossil petroleum - they push the possibilities of future propulsion.”

The exhaust gas quality measurements indicate that biofuel from algae contains eight times less hydrocarbons than kerosene derived from crude oil. In addition, nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions will also be reduced (up to 40 percent less nitrogen oxides and ca. 10 ppm sulfur oxides vs. 600 ppm of conventional Jet-A1-fuel) due to the very low nitrogen and sulfur content of the biofuel compared to fossil fuel.

Algae can be produced in sufficiently large quantities without competing with food production for fertile land or potable water. EADS research shows that all necessary technologies to develop the production of biofuel from algae are known, but industrial size and economy require further development. EADS is working with partners towards a pilot project to develop the necessary industrial infrastructure. The project is led by EADS Innovation Works, the corporate research and technology network of EADS and supported by the Bavarian Ministry of Economics, Transportation and Technology through the Government of Upper Bavaria with funding from the Bavarian aerospace research and technology programme (Project Bay68 “Biofuel from Algae”). The project is carried out in partnership with IGV GmbH of Potsdam, Diamond Aircraft and Austro Engines of Austria. The algae oil for flight testing and demonstration flights was delivered by Biocombustibles del Chubut S.A. in Argentina and refined into biofuel by VTS Verfahrenstechnik Schwedt, Germany.

Currently it is significantly more expensive to produce oil from algae in comparison to sourcing crude oil. If algae-based fuel is to be able to compete with kerosene, research and development work must aim to establish a cost effective mass production of algae biofuels using industrial quantities of carbon dioxide.

“As a systems architect of aircraft and helicopters, we consider that it is our responsibility to foster research on biofuels, even if we are not directly involved in the energy business”, states EADS CTO Jean Botti. “Therefore, EADS pursues research for suitable alternatives to fossil fuels and works together with leading research institutes as well as state governments and stakeholder companies from around the world towards achieving the climate protection goals of the aviation industry.” The goals for the year 2020 set by the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) include a carbon dioxide reduction by 50% and a nitrogen oxides reduction by 80%.

EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2009, the Group - comprising Airbus, Eurocopter, EADS Astrium and EADS Defence & Security – generated revenues of € 42.8 billion and employed a workforce of more than 119,000.

Contacts:

Gregor von Kursell Tel.: (+49) 89 607 34255
 

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