After conducting the world's first civil jet flight powered by 100% biofuel in 2012, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is continuing to advance sustainable aviation with projects that will help understand sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) attributes and their overall environmental impact.
The Flight Research Lab of the NRC's Aerospace Research Centre is in the midst of undertaking contrails and emissions flight research using 100% hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) biofuel (a subset of sustainable aviation fuels). High-blend biofuels are one key technology for sustainable aviation, reducing the global warming effects of net emissions and contrails, an increasingly significant agent in climate change.
Flight testing is done using 2 of the NRC's aircraft. The NRC Falcon jet burns the biofuel in cruise, and the NRC T33 research jet measures the characteristics of particulate matter (PM) emissions and contrail ice particle development. The tests were done on flights to the north of Ottawa, Ontario.
This is the 5th high-blend SAF flight research project conducted by the NRC over the last decade, starting with 100% biofuel in 2012. More recently, since 2017 the NRC has measured high-blend SAF contrails and emissions from 92% and 100% alcohol-to-jet conversion fuel and 100% HEFA fuel. The measurements indicate large reductions of 80% to 90% in PM emissions and significant reductions in contrail ice particle numbers and optical thickness by three minutes age, at which time the contrail is 40 km long.
Aviation contrails contribute to climate change through the action of radiative forcing, entrapping solar heat energy. A reduction in contrail thickness and coverage could reduce aviation's impact on the environment, an important beneficial effect of SAF usage in aviation.
The project is being conducted in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Transport Canada and LanzaTech.