Student’s aviation fuel research could set industry standard
Written by TechPurdue // April 24, 2012 // Admitted Students, Alumni & Friends, Aviation Technology, Business & Industry, Current Students, Energy and Sustainability, Faculty & Staff, Latest College News // No comments
The importance of Adam Landers’s research is not evident at first glance. You’ll see an array of canning jars topped with aluminum foil. You’ll recognize the smell of gasoline. You’ll probably wonder how this seemingly simple set-up could influence the future of aviation fuel research and production.
“This specification is so important, because it’s never been done before,” said Landers, a senior majoring in aeronautical engineering technology. “We are setting the baseline for how the industry will receive the specification and respond to it.”
Aviation fuel is the only liquid motor fuel that still contains tetra-ethyl lead, a compound deemed to be a hazardous material when ingested. The lead controls the rate of fuel burn in the engine cylinder and suppresses the tendency of the fuel to prematurely ignite when exposed to high temperatures and pressures in an engine. Lead has been banned from automobile fuel since the late 1970’s, but the petroleum industry has not been able to successfully apply the same chemical substitutes to aviation gasoline. Recent techniques, however, show promise for affordably creating unleaded synthetic fuels that behave like leaded aviation gasoline.
Landers’s jars contain samples of two kinds of fuel: industry-standard aviation fuel (called 100 low-lead or 100LL) and a new biosynthetic fuel from a private developer. Landers’s job has been to compare how each fuel interacts with the different materials it will come into contact with in an airplane. Following accepted specifications for testing fuel interactions (the jars and foil), Landers set up the tests so that scientific comparisons could be made with a variety of materials and at different temperatures. Landers’s specifications include:
- the way each material is cut for test
- how they are placed in the jars so they are fully submerged but not stacked on top of each other
- how they are measured for potential changes in physical property.
If the American Society of Test and Measurement (ASTM) accepts Landers’s research and findings at their June 2012 meeting, it will clear the way for testing the new biosynthetic fuel in the test engines at Purdue’s National Test Facility for Aerospace Fuels and Propulsion (NaTeF), headquartered in the Department of Aviation Technology.
It will also give future fuel developers a blueprint for conducting tests to ensure their non-lead fuels meet the necessary requirements for airplane engines. Specifications for test methods must be duplicated exactly every time someone tests a new fuel, so his methods could become the industry standard for the next century.
“Adam’s testing has a follow-up in some of the other grant work that we’re looking at,” said J. Mark Thom, associate professor of aviation technology and co-principal investigator for NaTeF. “We want to look at the interaction between fuel and polymers and figure out if we can start making predictions about performance.”
Thom said the private fuel developer will also be asking for approval of the gasoline that Landers has been testing. Landers’s tests will have a bearing on that approval to begin making the fuel at production quantities.