Researchers to quantify and reduce harmful black carbon emissions from jet fuels in global aviation

Posted by
On August 7, 2019

A DC-8's four engines burning either JP-8 jet fuel or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and renewable alternative fuel. Credits: NASA/SSAI Edward Winstead.

A DC-8’s four engines burning either JP-8 jet fuel or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and renewable alternative fuel. Credits: NASA/SSAI Edward Winstead.

The number of passengers on airlines almost doubled worldwide from 2007 to 2017 – from 2.2 billion to 4 billion people – according to the World Bank. And the public is increasingly aware of how atmospheric emissions from air travel can negatively impact both human health and climate.

Researchers from Missouri S&T are helping to establish international standards for jet engine particulate matter emissions that will reduce those impacts.

Missouri S&T recently received $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine emissions characteristics of non-volatile particulate matter (nvPM), or black carbon, from burning conventional and sustainable alternative jet fuels (SAJFs) in jet engines at cruise altitudes.

“With the data we produce, it will be possible for the international commercial aviation community to benchmark particulate matter emissions for global commercial fleets, then guide regulators to establish the requirements needed to reduce them from future jet engines,” says Dr. Philip Whitefield, professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Research in Energy and Environment at Missouri S&T.

With the addition of SAJF testing, the project expands the scope of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recent ASCENT Project 02 Ambient Conditions Corrections for Non-volatile PM Emissions Measurements that quantifies emissions data from various aircraft engines and fuels. Whitefield leads both projects.

“More and more research is showing the adverse effects of particulate matter emissions on human health, plus their potential to alter climate,” says Whitefield. “Regulators like the FAA and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are working with other federal and international agencies, equipment manufacturers, and universities to develop a method and standard to reduce these emissions from growing global commercial aviation.”

Missouri S&T’s mobile North American Reference System (NARS) is considered the “gold standard” in the U.S. and Canada for analyzing jet engine emissions of non-volatile particulate matter. Credit: Missouri S&T.

The project will use Missouri S&T’s mobile North American Reference System (NARS) to characterize and quantify the nvPM emissions from Jet-A fuel, a standardized international aviation fuel for gas-turbine engines, and three SAJFs in a series of combustor rig tests conducted by an engine manufacturer.

Missouri S&T designed and built the NARS in collaboration with the Society of Automotive Engineers, and Whitefield says it’s now the gold standard for quantifying exhaust particulates in the U.S. and Canada.

“When an engine manufacturer wants to build, operate or modify a facility to certify nvPM measurement, they need to compare their system’s performance to the NARS metrics,” says Whitefield.

Through the project, data from emissions collected at a range of simulated altitude conditions will be analyzed. The researchers will then develop algorithms that will allow international aviation organizations to predict nvPM emissions from certain engines operating at cruise altitudes. 

In addition to Whitefield, Steven Achterberg, senior research specialist at Missouri S&T, is working on the project. In-kind cost share is provided from the Swiss research institute EMPA, which is a part of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Science and Technology.

The project is expected to continue through February 2021. Whitefield and co-author, Dr. Donald E. Hagen, S&T professor emeritus of physics, directed S&T’s contribution to the “State of the Industry Report on Air Quality Emissions from Sustainable Alternative Jet Fuels,” which was published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Airport Cooperative Research Program in 2018.

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