Sandia Research Sets the Stage for Sustainable Jet Fuel

At the Sandia National Laboratories, data has been released by the researchers that could play a crucial role in the future development of more sustainable and eco-friendly aviation fuel.

Sandia Research Sets the Stage for Sustainable Jet Fuel.
Sandia National Laboratories recently published research data demonstrating how cycloalkanes, when used in jet fuel, may reduce condensation trail formation and soot emissions as compared to current fuels. Image Credit: Craig Fritz.

In a partnership with scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the researchers explored the physical properties of cycloalkanes - molecules that are made of carbon and hydrogen atoms arranged in a ring structure with the help of just single bonds.

When used in jet fuel, cycloalkanes could help reduce condensation trail formation and soot emissions as compared to present fuels.

The researchers elaborated their findings in an article that was reported recently in the journal Frontiers in Energy Research.

Since the global demand for aviation fuel is on the constant rise and is anticipated to grow, the combustion of petroleum fuel will continue to emit more carbon dioxide into the air and with it comes increasing impacts on climate change, stated Sandia chemist Alexander Landera.

Unlike other forms of travel, such as cars and trucks, there is currently no foreseeable path to electrify the aviation sector. Therefore, mitigation efforts are necessary to decarbonize the aviation industry.

Alexander Landera, Chemist, Sandia National Laboratories

Minimizing Aromatics

The team’s main aim has been to reduce the aromatic content of aviation fuel and substitute it with cycloalkane.

Aromatics are known as substances that are derived from refining crude oil and are utilized as a source of octane, increasing the power and fuel efficiency of the engine. Conventionally, aromatics have been useful in fuel since they make the O-rings in the engine swell. This is considered a significant function in avoiding fuel leaks and retaining engine seals.

But aromatics cause trouble since they produce soot at the time of combustion, which, like carbon dioxide, has a greenhouse effect and contributes to the warming of the Earth’s climate system, stated Landera.

Ideally, we would wish to remove all aromatics from fuel. But if we can even replace a large portion of the aromatics with cycloalkanes, we find they make good candidates as far as their ability to cause O-ring swelling and their strong fuel properties.

Alexander Landera, Chemist, Sandia National Laboratories

Furthermore, cycloalkanes can be produced from renewable biological material or feedstock, added Landera, thereby possibly making their production highly carbon sustainable.

Physical Properties of Cycloalkanes

The research data obtained analyzed the physical properties of cycloalkanes that would impact the operability, safety and performance of the aircraft. Landera believes that by building a database of such properties, their research will set the stage for the inclusion of cycloalkane in future aviation fuels.

We’ve looked at various families of cycloalkanes to identify which ones have the strongest fuel properties, and which have higher energy content.

Alexander Landera, Chemist, Sandia National Laboratories

Addressing Global Climate Security

Sandia shows involvement in the work to reduce expenses, increase sustainability and extend the use and production of long-lasting aviation fuels.

This study has been financially supported by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office, and hence it is a part of Sandia’s mission to fulfill the national and global security threats linked with the climate crisis, stated Anthe George, senior manager of the Labs’ applied biosciences and engineering group.

George stated, “Climate change poses a threat to national and global security. Sandia has a long heritage of providing the nation with climate-related innovations that have already made an impact in mitigating emissions, including combustion research, solar thermal testing, and wind farm technology.

Developing sustainable aviation fuel, with decreased carbon dioxide and soot emissions, will be pivotal to ongoing mitigation efforts against global warming,” added George.

Journal Reference:

Landera, A., et al. (2022) Building Structure-Property Relationships of Cycloalkanes in Support of Their Use in Sustainable Aviation Fuels. Frontiers in Energy Research.


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