Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Will Gas to Liquid Jet Fuels Make the Airline Industry More Earth Friendly?

Developed by Shell in order to make the airline industry more Earth-friendly, will gas to liquid or GTL jet fuels really live up to the hype?

By: Ringo Bones

Despite of contributing less than 3% of the total industrial carbon dioxide being dumped into our atmosphere, the airline industry seems to be unfairly singled out as the primary pollution culprit that lead to global warming. Could it be that it is the only sector in the industry that has been very reluctant in taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint, let alone pollution reduction without hurting their bottom line?

Back in October 13, 2009, the Qatar Science & Technology Park. Together with Shell, Texas A & M University at Qatar, The University of Sheffield, Rolls-Royce, and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) signed two agreements to further quantify the benefits of natural gas-based gas to liquid or GTL jet fuel as a substitute to the conventional crude oil sourced kerosene jet fuel. During the 2009 Dubai Air Show, the preliminary benefits of the study was revealed to the airline industry that’s eager to adopt a more ecologically sustainable practice. But is it really better than conventional crude oil sourced kerosene jet fuel?

Preliminary results have shown that GTL jet fuel produces significantly less soot and oxides of nitrogen, the two other pollution products of burning jet fuel besides carbon dioxide. And GTL jet fuel also results in reduced engine wear of existing jet engines used in the airline industry, so they could be a significant carbon offset factor due to jet engine parts lasting longer. It doesn’t take an aerospace engineer / rocket scientist to figure out that jet engine turbine parts generate substantial amounts of carbon dioxide during their manufacturing phase.

The bad news is that when run in existing jet engines, GTL kerosene jet fuel needs to be mix – in a 50-50 ratio – with crude oil source kerosene jet fuel in order to run. That alone reduces the ecological benefit by 50%. Sadly, GTL jet fuel will only be available in the Middle East and Europe in the immediate future. This means Transatlantic flights using GTL jet fuel will only be 25% more Earth-friendly than their conventional counterparts. And being a fossil fuel GTL jet fuels still contribute carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere when burned, thus it does nothing to curb global warming.

Slowly but surely, the airline industry is now on the forefront of making passenger flights more ecologically sustainable. Biodiesel-sourced jet fuels are already tested on modified jet engines designed to burn them, and like GTL jet fuels, seem to offer reduced wear of jet engine parts – which tend to be very expensive – and produce less oxides of nitrogen. So a reduced nitric oxide product that could further deplete our already fragile ozone layer and contrail soot that is already suspected of creating cancer-clusters under most flight-paths of commercial air routes. So the civilian side of the aerospace industry will probably be much greener from an ecological perspective in the coming years.