UD Works To Help Reduce Airlines' Carbon Footprint

Nov 18, 2019

The University of Dayton School of Engineering lab may be instrumental in helping airlines reduce their huge carbon footprint - an estimated 43 gigatons of pollution through 2050. That's nearly 5% of the world's remaining carbon budget.

UD is the first in the nation to prescreen alternative jet fuels with as little as 17 ounces, a fraction of what is needed to adhere to the required American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) approval process. "Prescreening is not required as part of ASTM nor does it guarantee approval," says Joshua Heyne, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. 

"We're able to give a green light or maybe a yellow light, or how to tweak a composition or product pathway to make the product safer," Heyne tells WVXU.

This early indication of how well it will work is important in an otherwise long, expensive and complicated approval process.

Heyne's lab runs a handful of tests on each fuel that correlate with worst-case scenarios in a jet engine. One big area of focus is viscosity and how well the fuel will perform at -40°F.

Biofuels have had a slow start. The first flight with kerosene and biofuel was 11 years ago. The Ethical Corporation, a business think tank, says ultimately crops like sugar cane and grains like feedstock pushed up food prices and led to changes in land use. And the organization says, "For many airlines, there's no incentive to invest in fuels that can cost two to three times the price of kerosene."

Heyne says there's a lot of attention on waste streams right now. "You can take what's considered trash and turn it into something that has value." This could be in the form of forest residues, or municipal solid waste.

It took LanzaTech 14 years to go from lab to commercial scale. The U.S. company makes aviation fuel from industrial waste emissions. The Dutch company SkyNRG uses waste fats but is looking to diversity with forestry residue.

According to Biofuels International, the Australian airline group Qantas wants zero carbon emissions by 2050 and invest $50 million over 10 years to help develop a sustainable aviation fuel made from mustard seed.

UD graduate students Shane Kosir and Harrison Yang work in the lab. Yang views their progress as important. "What we're doing is actually a lot cooler than what I thought," he says. "It's a lot more meaningful to the world."