Very specific demands are placed on aviation fuel due to the extreme conditions experienced when a plane is in use. It has to be of a higher quality than fuel used in road vehicles and there are risks of icing when the plane is at high altitudes and of explosion when the temperatures are high. To mitigate these risks and maintain safe operating conditions, special additives are used and considerable time and money are spent on researching and developing the best additives.
The sector within which jet fuel suppliers operate is diverse. There are small, niche markets supplying fuel for corporate and private aviation sectors and there are the large commercial airline fleets. There are also special military aircraft that need particular types of fuel.
Fuel makes up a very large proportion of the weight load carried by aircraft. Long-haul aircraft have to carry huge quantities of fuel. The highest rates of fuel usage are at take-off and landing. There are further demands on the jet fuel industry; for example, jet fuel suppliers are expected to offer products that generate lower emissions and therefore cause less damage to the environment. They are also expected to provide improved fuel economy.
The Jetscreen programme
The Jetscreen programme is integral to the development of alternative fuels. Its aim is to integrate design tools and experiment-based validations so that alternative fuels can be fully assessed in terms of risks and benefits. For alternative fuels, the goal is to optimise them in terms of energy density and reduced emissions of pollutants.
As part of the project, organisations that are engaged in producing and manufacturing aircraft and the original equipment manufacturers of engine and fuel systems will be supplied with knowledge-based tools.
The objective of the programme is to streamline the approval process for alternative aviation fuel. The compatibility of fuel composition and the fuel system and the combustion system will be assessed; at the same time, the added value of the alternative fuel can be calculated. It is hoped that the process will help both synthetic and conventional fuels to be optimised.
There is considerable interest in a new generation of ‘extreme fuels’, which will be targeted with statistical modelling during the early stages of development. At the end stage, there will be both quantitative and qualitative research into the impact of fuel on sub-processes, the engine and the fuel system.
Sustainable supplies of jet fuel
Compliance with the Jetstream programme imparts considerable benefits to the jet fuel supplier. Large consumers of aviation fuel, such as British Airways, have shown real interest in partnering with plants that convert household rubbish into jet fuel, providing a renewable fuel source. This may provide an alternative to the traditional supplies from refineries that are piped to airports in underground networks.
The combination of innovation such as this and the rigours of scientific testing provided by the Jetscreen programme heralds an exciting period for the aviation fuel industry.