Rolls-Royce, British Airways to Test Alternative Airline Fuels

Starting next year, the Rolls-Royce Group and British Airways hope to test up to four airplane fuel alternatives to kerosene.

The companies are asking suppliers to provide fuel samples for testing in 2009. The companies are seeking fuels that perform as well as kerosene but emit fewer greenhouse gases. They are also taking into account if production of the fuels will have detrimental effects on food supplies, land use and water. Suppliers will also need to ensure the fuels can be mass-produced and distributed around the world.

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The fuels will be tested on a Rolls-Royce RB211 engine from a British Airways Boeing 747 at an indoor test engine bed. The companies aren't experimenting on actual flights so that outside factors will not affect performance and emissions. Results will be compared to that of an engine running on kerosene, and the tests will include performance while idling, accelerating, taking off and cruising. Testing will finish by March 2009.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the X Prize Foundation have also teamed up to spur innovation and investment in greener alternatives to jet fuel. The X Prize Foundation will spend the next 14 months working with aviation experts and identify incentives for the creation of alternative fuels and technologies. Once finalized, the alternative fuel competition is expected to run three-eight years.

The competition will also look for fuels that are renewable, not based on fossil fuels, and which do not affect food production or land changes that lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

Current and former X Prize awards range from $10 million to $30 million. The FAA's partnership with the X Prize Foundation is an outgrowth of its Next Generation air traffic modernization program aimed at doubling the capacity of the U.S. aviation system by 2025, a goal that includes the development and use of renewable fuels.

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