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Advanced Jet Fuels

Advanced Jet Fuels

DAYTON, Ohio – The University of Dayton Research Institute has been awarded a $49.5 million Air Force research grant to develop advanced jet fuels and combustion technologies. The six-year cooperative grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate will address key areas in the development of synthetic, alternative and blended fuels, as well as technologies to address emissions, thermal management and fuel efficiency.

“Advances in fuels and combustion technologies are critical to advances in aerospace propulsion systems for 21st-century military and commercial aircraft,” said Dilip Ballal, head of UDRI’s Energy and Environmental Division and director of its von Ohain Fuels and Combustion Center. “Our focus will be to design new and improve existing technologies that will not only meet the demands of evolving aircraft systems, but will do so with minimal environmental impact.”

Benefits of the program will be far reaching, Ballal said. Any advances in jet fuels will have implications for diesel and other fuels as well.

A major focus of the program will be on the development, validation and field testing of synthetic fuels from a variety of feedstock, to include biofuels from renewable domestic energy sources such as seed and plant oils, animal fats and algae. The development of advanced synthetic fuels – those that are manmade from natural sources other than petroleum – are important for two reasons,” Ballal said. “The first impacts the energy security of our nation by allowing us to rely more on domestic fuel sources than foreign petroleum sources. In addition, if we can develop new fuels ‘from the ground up,’ that is, at the molecular level, then we have the opportunity to tailor these fuels to meet a variety of needs. We could design fuels to withstand far higher temperatures than current fuels, allowing engines to run hotter and therefore more efficiently.” Those same fuels could be made to also tolerate extremely cold temperatures to prevent freezing at high altitudes. Extreme temperature tolerance is critical because jet fuel serves to cool propulsion systems in addition to powering the aircraft, Ballal said.

Tailored fuels could be made to produce less of the carbon deposits and gums that reduce efficiency, and researchers will also look at ways to reduce or even eliminate the number of expensive additives currently required to address lubricity, icing, and other performance issues. By altering its molecular structure, researchers may be able to design fuel with these same performance-enhancing properties built in.

Research will also target combustion technologies, with a goal of reducing emissions of gaseous and particulate matter, Ballal said. “We believe synthetic fuels will enable the development of ultra-efficient combustors that will produce far less exhaust smoke than current combustors.”

A materials compatibility study will investigate how changing the properties of fuel might affect the polymers and other materials used in aircraft fuel system components, such as seals and gaskets. Other program elements will cover research into the development of analytical tools and techniques to investigate fuels at the molecular level, computer modeling and simulation to complement experimentation, and integrating and demonstrating new technologies in existing systems.

Much of this work will take place in AFRL propulsion labs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, including the new Assured Aerospace Fuels Research Facility. UDRI was awarded a $10 million AFRL contract in 2008 to lead the design, development, fabrication and operation of AAFRF, to be the first federal research test facility dedicated to developing research quantities of new and improved jet fuels from coal and biomass.

Work will also be performed in the von Ohain Fuels and Combustion Center, which provides research opportunities for 30 University of Dayton engineering students working directly with 60 professional research staff.

The grant is the largest award to UDRI, established as the research arm of the University of Dayton in 1956.

Dec. 15, 2009

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