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  • Future Fuels of Powered Flight

    Recently I was thinking about how far the automobile industry has come in the past several decades in terms of alternative fuels (e.g. biodiesel, electric cars, etc.,) and I was wondering what proposals, if any, have been made for the future of the aviation industry. Inevitably our supply of fossil fuels will become more and more scarce, and while I'm not suggesting we will run completely out in the near future (predictions change on a daily if not hourly basis,) at some point the cost of fossil fuel-powered aircraft will skyrocket. This may be in the next half century, or well into the future. My question is this: what is the most realistic source of alternative fuel for aircraft after the current fossil fuels are no longer a viable option? For the sake of argument, let's say they run out in fifty years. Do we turn to the biofuel route? Or do we take a more drastic approach and put a small nuclear reactor in a plane? Or even make them solar powered?

    I know numerous aircraft have flown on biofuels, or a mix of biofuel and regular jet fuel, most notably a British Airways aircraft on a transatlantic flight. I also recall a solar powered aircraft circumnavigating the globe in the recent past.

    I apologize if this has been discussed before, I searched around for a bit and didn't come up with much.

    -Chris

  • #2
    Realistically speaking, we're not going to see anything other than our current 'genre' of fuel for a very long time - not while we are using current engines.

    Aircraft are not the preferred route for trialling technology, so anything we do see will be a derivative of an existing technology at the time - so we'll likely see it in cars etc. well before we see it in aircraft.

    Biofuels are ok as long as they are 'drop in replacements' for current fuel sources. Why? Infrastructure. There is no appetite for designing a new engine to run on a new fuel if no-one can buy it because there is none of the infrastructure to provide fuel to the plane, not only at the departure and destination, but any potential diversion airports AND any remotely possible future destinations. Just think about the JET A (or derivative) delivery infrastructure! Its enormous! To think that we could duplicate that for a new wave of aircraft is unrealistic. And while thats the case, no one will build the engine.

    I believe the more likely near future is that cars will be moving towards newer fuels, while aircraft will remain kerosene based for a long time to come. I don't think we've yet seen the fuel that will be the future of aviation long term. How you get that fuel, well, there are options. Gas to Liquid, Coal to Liquid, etc are other advancing technologies that we're slowly seeing.

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    • #3
      airbus was working on some kind of fuel-cell

      http://www.airbus.com/innovation/fut...ow/fuel-cells/

      but i haven't heard much about it since they revealed it

      not only BA flew transatlantic on biofuel, KLM did several bio-ful flights too, inlcuding to New York, Rio de Janeiro and right now they're doing a 6 month test on flights to Aruba and Bonaire

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      • #4
        electric
        Electricity is not a SOURCE of energy because there is no electricity available out there. We must GENERATE electricity first, and for that we still need a SOURCE of energy, which today is still predominantly fossil fuels.

        The fuel-cell is a battery that runs on fuel. Basically a fuel (typically hydrogen in this case) is oxidized but the energy is captured like electricity instead of converted in heat. It also has the same "exhaust gases" than if we were just burning that fuel. The advantages of it over a combustion engine is that, apparently, a much higher efficiency can be achieved with a cell fuel + electric engine so the same trip would consume less fuel. And over batteries it's that it's much faster to recharge (just fill up the tank) and that you don't need to take the whole "weight" of the energy source even after exhausting that energy (a fully loaded or exhausted battery weight the same) and the "fully charged" weight is also lighter because, unlike batteries, part of the chemicals used are not carried with the cell but taken form the air (the oxygen). And we know that in airplanes lower weight means lower energy consumption.

        --- Judge what is said by the merits of what is said, not by the credentials of who said it. ---
        --- Defend what you say with arguments, not by imposing your credentials ---

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Gabriel View Post
          Electricity is not a SOURCE of energy because there is no electricity available out there.
          You are correct.

          That being said, Electricity collectively represents a whole number of alternative "non-hydrocarbon-liquid" sources such as hydro, inefficient-scarcely-bladed windmills, cattle methane emissions, geothermal, thermonuclear, tidal, wood and maybe even coal.
          Les règles de l'aviation de base découragent de longues périodes de dur tirer vers le haut.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by 3WE View Post
            You are correct.

            That being said, Electricity collectively represents a whole number of alternative "non-hydrocarbon-liquid" sources such as hydro, inefficient-scarcely-bladed windmills, cattle methane emissions, geothermal, thermonuclear, tidal, wood and maybe even coal.
            The vast majority of the electricity today is still generated burning fuels, mainly fossil fuels, which includes coal but not cattle methane.

            --- Judge what is said by the merits of what is said, not by the credentials of who said it. ---
            --- Defend what you say with arguments, not by imposing your credentials ---

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            • #7
              http://www.solarimpulse.com/

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_E-Fan

              http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/news..._202805-1.html [
              EADS Unveils Electric, Aerobatic, Four-Engine Airplane.
              Also last week, the FAA said it will give $125 million to five aerospace companies to help them develop new eco-friendly technologies that will reduce jet fuel consumption, emissions and noise. Those companies; Boeing, GE, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls Royce -- will use the funds for research into sustainable alternative aviation fuels, lighter and more efficient engines, and advanced wing surfaces. They will also look at open rotor and geared turbofan engines, the FAA said. The FAA's goal is to reduce aviation fuel consumption 33 percent by 2015.
              ...and those are just the highlights of the experimental aircraft.
              Whatever is necessary, is never unwise.

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              • #8
                http://www.avweb.com/news/nbaa/NBAA2..._203463-1.html

                An electric-powered Cessna 172 proof-of-concept aircraft will be ready to fly by April of next year, Bye Energy and Cessna said this week at NBAA's Annual Convention.
                Umm. Sorry, but I swear this was a co-incidence.
                Whatever is necessary, is never unwise.

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                • #9
                  http://finance.yahoo.com/news/biofue...lTCFsA0KLQtDMD

                  “The United States is expected to emerge as the clear leader in the construction of integrated biorefineries capable of producing bio-based jet fuel and marine distillates over the next 10 years,” says Mackinnon Lawrence, research director with Navigant Research. “New biorefinery construction in the U.S. is expected to generate $7.8 billion in cumulative revenue over the next 10 years, representing 66 percent of the revenue generated globally.”
                  #progress
                  Whatever is necessary, is never unwise.

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                  • #10
                    In the mid 1970s there was a fuel crisis and the company I worked for at the time developed viable hydrogen sources; one for the east coast and one for the west coast of the USA. To use this fuel Lockheed designed a hydrogen powered L-1011. The use of hydrogen reduced the weight of the aircraft significantly.

                    Currently Boeing is demonstrating a hydrogen powered UAV.

                    Also back in the late 50s a nuclear powered B-36 aircraft was flown (not sure if it was 100% nuclear).

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