Rolls-Royce and British Airways Launch Alternative Fuel Engine

As rising oil costs continue to plague the airline industry with economic woes, British Airways is exploring alternative energy in a joint effort with Rolls-Royce. The two companies announced a scientific test program that will seek to identify practical alternatives to kerosene, with the potential to make significant reductions of an aircraft's carbon footprint.

"Recently, we announced a further 25 percent improvement target on fuel efficiency by 2025 compared with 2005," said Jonathon Counsell, head of environment at British Airways. "Should the tests we are undertaking with Rolls-Royce be successful, the potential for bringing us closer to a greener fuel alternative that will help the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint is enormous."

Through a joint tender process, the companies will invite suppliers to bring alternative fuel samples for testing to the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, UK, where a Rolls-Royce RB211 engine from a British Airways Boeing 747 will be the test subject. The controlled environment of a Rolls-Royce test bed will enable the gathering of more accurate data than from an actual flight due to the additional instrumentation that will be used while performance and emissions will not be affected by external factors.

Upon conclusion of the tender process, up to four alternative fuels will be selected to undergo laboratory testing before being delivered to Rolls-Royce in the new year. Intensive trials will follow, comparing the performance of the aero-engine when powered by the alternative fuels to its performance running on conventional kerosene. Testing is expected to be complete by the end of March 2009 after which the results will be analysed and reported.

“The key criteria for the selection of the alternative fuels will be their suitability, sustainability and industrial capability," said Ric Parker, director of research and technology at Rolls-Royce. “It is critical that the fuel can not only do the job required of it, but can also offer a CO2 benefit and be produced without a detrimental impact to food, land or water. There must also be clear evidence of the potential for mass production and global distribution of an alternative fuel to support the world’s aviation industry.”

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