Bio-Fuel: The Next Best Thing In Aviation

India’s first biofuel-powered flight was successfully tested on 26 Aug 2018.

Spicejet, one of India’s premier budget airline flew the successful 20 minute sortie from Dehradun to Delhi loaded with bio-fuel. With this, Spicejet became the first commercial Indian airliner to do so. It carried 75%ATF (Aero Turbine Fuel) and 25% bio fuel.

Aboard the flight were DGCA (Directorate General Of Civil Aviation) officials and other aviation and allied industry stakeholders, who travelled to ascertain the feasibility of biofuel-powered flights.

While it would be natural to express doubts on the effectiveness of a bio-fuel vis-a-vis commercial ATF, seasoned pilots and aviation industry experts assure us otherwise.

“Aircraft engines use a certain grade of fuel, Jet A1 being the most common. This is essentially purified kerosene. With bio-fuel you can just about get anything- petrol, diesel, kerosene or even jet fuel. As long as the grade is right there should be no power loss.”

The Process of Bio-Fuel Extraction

On the success of the maiden bio=fuel sortie on the Bombardier Q-400 (VT-SUI) SpiceJet’s Chief Strategy Officer G P Gupta said, “The results have been very positive. According to preliminary studies, the power fro bio-fuel was even greater than regular ATF.”

What’s interesting is that in this cut-throat battle for the skies, Indigo had also thrown in it’s hat as far back as four years ago. But the attempt fizzled out when Indigo learnt that it was easier to import ATF from Singapore than go with bio-fuel option. And, that’s how SpiceJet overtook them instead of being such late starters.

The benefits of bio-fuel however will accrue over a period of time but will benefit all. Flights might get cheaper after all, with bio-fuel costing much, much less. The environment of course invariably benefits in turn reducing each individual’s Carbon Footprint. And finally, the efficiency of the fuel will determine whether it can set the ‘Make-In-India’s import-export cash  registers ringing.

Other countries to have tested bio-fuel for powering aircraft have been the USA and Australia.

Also read about NASA’s new app for some ‘Out Of The World’ Selfies.

The Origins Of This Wonder Fuel

Dehradun-based CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) and Indian Institute of Petroleum developed the wonder fuel. It has been analysed by the Deputy General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Indian Oil.

The 450 litres of biojet fuel was developed using oil extracted from the seeds of the Jatropha plant which was supplied to IIP by the Chhattisgarh Biofuel Development Authority (CBDA). The CBDA had procured it from 500 Chhattisgarh-based farmers.

Jatropha Plant and Seeds

The Jatropha Plant: Source of Bio-Fuel

Anil Sinha, Principal Scientist at IIP who headed the 20-member team that developed the biojet fuel said that the institute will now procure oil from various seeds and trees for biofuel production.

“Procuring feed for biofuel is a challenge. However, once streamlined, it will help farmers and tribals earn from supplying the feed. Currently, Tezpur University in Assam has assured us that it will send us a few thousand litres of Nahor oil (from the Nahor tree). Encouraging the use of seed-bearing trees  for biofuel formation, will surely give a boost to agro-forestry in the coming years,” Sinha says.

In Conclusion

Our future as the human race depends upon how well we succeed in protecting our environment. We have used, misused and abused it tremendously to cater to our own comforts and luxury. Its time we rediscover the treasures that nature has to offer, in the form of oil producing seed bearing trees. We need to go back to the drawing board and reimagine more environmentally conscious and economically feasible options to better and responsible living.

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