Brown learns beans

March 12, 2008

United Parcel Service (UPS) is in the process of evaluating biodiesel fuel at its air hub in Louisville, Ky., running some 366 ground support vehicles on a 5% biodiesel blend. The biodiesel is manufactured from U.S.-produced oils such as soybean oil, recycled cooking oil or animal fat. The fuel reduces emissions of particulate matter, carbon and volatile organic compounds.

Tests in October 2007 using biodiesel to replace jet fuel provided encouraging results, reports Scientific American ( A 1968 L-29 Czechoslovakian jet was flown for 37 minutes to as high as 17,000 feet. “She flew and she flew just fine,” says physicist Rudi Wiedemann, president and CEO of Biodiesel Solutions, Inc., whose company provided the fuel: fresh canola oil refined into biodiesel. “We wanted to show that it was doable by just going out and doing it.”

Doug Rodante, president of Green Flight International (a company in Florida that promotes alternative aviation fuels), and chief test pilot Carol Sugars, a senior pilot with the UPS, conducted extensive fuel tests on the ground, beginning with a 20% blend of biodiesel and normal jet fuel and progressing to 100% percent biodiesel (B100) as their confidence increased.

Biodiesel can gel at cooler temperatures. The L-29 has a fuel-warming system, making it one of the few jets currently capable of burning biodiesel. “We can burn a 20% mix in other aircraft with no modifications,” Rodante says.

“As little as 20% biodiesel in petroleum diesel fuel will reduce carbon emissions by 50%,” Wiedemann says. Airplanes emit roughly 12% of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, but they’re among the fastest growing sources and, potentially, the most damaging because of their release higher in the atmosphere.

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