formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

February 3, 2009 Aviation alternative fuels

The Liberty Gazette
February 3, 2009
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Electric, solar, hydrogen, algae, or … garbage? Everyone is thinking Green these days and people in the world of aviation are no different. The Experimental Aircraft Association is leading the way for electric aircraft motors. They’ve requested regulatory exemptions, proposing battery packs for ultra lights and electric motor specifications for light sport aircraft. Engineer and EAA-er, Craig Willan said, “We in the EAA family have the intellect, the drive, and the passion to do something that can change the world.”

While the EAA leads a grass-roots approach to going green Boeing Aircraft Company has applied for a patent for an unmanned liquid hydrogen powered aircraft. The company believes it can design one to fly for up to 10 days at 60,000 feet carrying up to 2,000 pounds. Liquid hydrogen takes up four times the volume as jet fuel, but, according to AvWeb, it takes about 2.9 times the amount of jet fuel (by weight) to produce the same energy. So they’re designing a propeller airplane that can take on a greater volume of liquid hydrogen as fuel. Its uses? Good for loitering, as in an airborne observation vehicle for law enforcement or weather data collection or a “flying cell tower.”

The Algal Biomass Organization, a not-for-profit trade association “promotes development of viable commercial markets for renewable and sustainable commodities derived from algae.”

Mike: Boeing is one of its platinum members, and on December 30 a 737 operated by Air New Zealand took off from Auckland International Airport in a demonstration (no passengers) flight using a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and algae components derived from the jatropha plant. A similar experiment was conducted in Houston January 7 with a Continental Airlines 737. Those involved in the development of algae-based fuel say it can be grown anywhere and doesn’t impact food crops or water resources nor contribute to de-forestation. And while this was the first flight by a commercial carrier using algae, Virgin Atlantic flew the first commercial flight powered by biofuel a year ago using a blend of coconut and babassu oils, but it’s questionable whether those oils could operate in the colder temperatures of high altitudes. Might want to consider planting a jatropha crop.

The Solena Group, of Washington, D.C., has plans for a $250 million fuel production plant in Gilroy, California, and by 2011 will be turning garbage, manure, and tree bark into jet fuel. They’ll acquire their raw materials from municipal waste collectors and process it using something called the Fischer-Tropsch method. While we’re not sure exactly how it works, we understand this method extracts petroleum out of any carbon-based compound. A South African company, Sasol, is already doing something similar at the Johannesburg International Airport. The first to receive international approval for synthetic jet fuel, Sasol says emissions are lower than today’s jet fuel because of limited sulfur content.

Technological advances in propulsion systems are one of the ways aviation is becoming more environmentally friendly. Airport buildings themselves, construction materials and energy systems are another. We’ll cover that in a future article. Until then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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