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NASA has performed the first real world test of biofuels jet engine emissions versus jet engines powered by traditional fossil fuels.  (Source: NASA / Tom Tschida)

NASA engineers position a data collection device (the pole-like structure) behind an engine to measure emissions.  (Source: NASA / Tom Tschida)
Jet: Beef -- it's what's for dinner?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has given jets their first taste of animal flesh [press release], and apparently they like it.

Traditionally jets run on high-octane oil byproducts.  Oil is an "omnivorous" diet of sorts, in so much as it is composed of a hydrocarbon stew of decomposed plants and animals, though its primary contributors are prehistoric plants and bacteria. 

In March and April, researchers at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in California test biofuel made of chicken and beef tallow (waste fat) in the engine of a DC-8 airplane.  NASA hopes that the study makes people realize that biofuels don't have to come from plant sources necessarily -- they can also come from flesh.

Writes the agency's press release:

"Renewable" means that the fuel source isn't some form of fossil fuel. The source could be algae, a plant such as jatropha, or even rendered animal fat.

To test the new animal-based biofuel, the researchers ran one engine burning Jet Propellant 8, or JP-8, fuel, which is very similar to the industry standard Jet-A fuel used in commercial aircraft.  They ran a second engine on a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and Hydrotreated Renewable Jet Fuel, or HRJ -- the animal-based biofuel.  And a third engine ran on pure HRJ.

The test was dubbed the Alternative Aviation Fuels Experiment, or AAFEX.

The key goal was to measure the amount of emissions put off by a jet running on biofuel versus one on fossil fuel -- something that had never been done before.

What they found was that the biofuel-powered engine produced much lower sulfate, organic aerosol, and hazardous emissions.  It also produced 90 percent less black carbon emissions at idle and 60 percent less at a takeoff level of thrust.  Emissions of nitrogen oxides, commonly known as NOx, were also much lower. NOx is a key component of smog and can directly trigger asthma attacks and respiratory problems in humans.

Ruben Del Rosario, a NASA manager of the Subsonic Fixed Wing Project at the Glenn Research Center in Ohio, states, "The test results seem to support the idea that biofuels for jet engines are indeed cleaner-burning, and release fewer pollutants into the air. That benefits us all."

The testing was quite open with 17 government agencies, universities, and industry players participating in the test and data analysis.  The tests were funded by the NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.

The tests are somewhat of a sequel to a series of tests in 2009 in which engineers and researchers evaluated the performance of engines running on "synthetic fuels", like liquefied coal and natural gas.  Researchers in that test also found that emissions were significantly reduced over traditional fossil fuels.

The U.S. Air Force recently approved its first aircraft (the USAF Globemaster III) for running on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and JP-8.  Outside of the government several airlines, including Richard Branson's Virgin Airlines, are evaluating biofuels for commercial use.

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Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By phrizzo on 4/27/2011 9:17:08 AM , Rating: 2
If we can learn how to turn Human fat into fuel, then space travel will be solved! We could travel to other galaxy's by just stopping at McDonalds.

RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By GulWestfale on 4/27/2011 9:25:45 AM , Rating: 4
great idea! we could use the fat of executed prisoners, and when we run out of fuel we can just convict and execute more people! and then we can also use their fat to make soap, you know. and soylent green. mmm, i'm lovin' it.


RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By Mitch101 on 4/27/2011 9:26:10 AM , Rating: 4
Would solve all the energy problems here in the USA. Probably could supply the world with power.

RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By GulWestfale on 4/27/2011 9:31:44 AM , Rating: 5
1 roseanne barr could probably power south america.

RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By Dorkyman on 4/27/2011 12:41:05 PM , Rating: 2
Oprah could power Obama's trip to her show on Air Force I.

Perfect example of symbiosis.

RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By solarrocker on 4/27/2011 9:37:27 AM , Rating: 2
Free liposuction at the gas station with every fill up!

Ah the future, where you can eat anything and be productive for society by being an over-weighed slob.

RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By PlasmaBomb on 4/27/2011 9:46:12 AM , Rating: 3
Soylent Jet is PEOPLE!!

RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By VahnTitrio on 4/27/2011 12:49:46 PM , Rating: 2
Brings new meaning to the term burning calories. Also if I ever start putting on a few pounds I'll just say I'm preparing for a long trip.

RE: Turning Human Fat into Fuel
By Jeffk464 on 4/27/2011 9:22:54 PM , Rating: 2
Thats what I said before, you just need a lypo doctor with equipment on every flight. You feed the engines the lypo'd fat in flight. Its a win win really. Just like having the colonoscopy booth in the TSA lines, two birds with one stone.

By Kosh401 on 4/27/2011 9:29:43 AM , Rating: 2
Any word on the costs and time involved in creating the biofuel they used for these tests? It burns much cleaner obviously, but how does it perform? It would be great if there wasn't a significant performance/efficiency hit and is something that could be produced large-scale and eventually become the standard for airliners.

RE: Costs?
By GulWestfale on 4/27/2011 9:32:52 AM , Rating: 2
american farmers feed their cows with steroids, so does that give it a higher octane rating? or will the airplane attempt to win the tour de france?

RE: Costs?
By Kosh401 on 4/27/2011 10:06:35 AM , Rating: 3
Huh? I guess your sarcasm is noted, but I'm just trying to ask a question and learn something :P Different fuels provide different levels of efficiency and performance so I'm just wondering if that applies here as well..

RE: Costs?
By Dr of crap on 4/27/2011 12:23:25 PM , Rating: 2
There was a article on here not to long ago about the military, Navy I think, that was trying out algea based fuel at $25,000 a gallon.
So anything less than that would be better!

That Ain't No Good English!
By nstott on 4/27/2011 10:24:58 AM , Rating: 1
What they found was that the biofuel-powered engine produced much less lower sulfate, organic aerosol, and hazardous emissions.

"Much less lower?!"

RE: That Ain't No Good English!
By Uncle on 4/27/2011 12:59:04 PM , Rating: 2
That there is Hillbilly lingo. Anyways I think their on to something. Gov. should pass a law that all obese people go in for liposuction, the amount of oil saved would be in the millions of barrels per day, hell we can tell the Ahabs to kiss our arses.

RE: That Ain't No Good English!
By ClownPuncher on 4/27/2011 1:42:05 PM , Rating: 1
You got the first "there" right, but hit a hilbilly speedbump with the second!

They're - They are
Their - possesive, as in "their car"

Now, I just have to find something useful to do other than correct grammar...

By ClownPuncher on 4/27/2011 1:45:04 PM , Rating: 2
Damn, I missed a few letters in some of those words. I guess that's what happens when you go full pedantic.

I Wonder if...
By mmatis on 4/27/2011 1:10:47 PM , Rating: 2
this research is halal? Or is it haraam? Sure, they SAY they made the fuel using chicken and beef tallow. But did they sneak in any pig fat? If so, flying in a plane using this fuel would be haraam to any follower of the Religion of Peace. Wouldn't that be a kick in the nuts after the NASA Administrator's announcement a few months back that NASA's main job was to convince Muslims of all the contributions their religion has made to science!

RE: I Wonder if...
By Zok on 4/27/2011 5:15:41 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're on to something there. This isn't about finding alternative fuels or reducing emissions! It's about keeping our skies safer. Good call.

RE: I Wonder if...
By RivuxGamma on 5/1/2011 6:45:13 PM , Rating: 2
I say they should only use pig fat-based fuels. If dying in pig products means you can't get your metric ton of virgins and meet-n-greet with Allah, it might be a deterrent.

Using animals for fuel?
By lightfoot on 4/27/2011 12:38:02 PM , Rating: 2
Are people are so worried about running out of oil that they are now seriously considering using animals for fuel?

I mean we couldn't possibly run out of animals right?

This is insane.

RE: Using animals for fuel?
By ZachDontScare on 4/27/2011 5:30:43 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously. If only there was some way to pull oil right out of the ground. THEN...THEN our problems would be solved!

Guess I won't be eating anymore ribeye steaks
By makken on 4/27/2011 11:43:40 AM , Rating: 2
I now expect prices for the fattiest cuts of beef to go up 50%.

By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 4/27/2011 11:53:28 AM , Rating: 1
Actually, the cost of soap and other products that are already made with rendered fat will go up. There is already a use for the fat retrieved from slaughter operations. Way to find an "alternative" fuel source, NASA.

By Arsynic on 4/27/2011 12:43:04 PM , Rating: 3
There's a reason why Walmart has those scooters, or lard shuttles.

By Divide Overflow on 5/5/2011 4:28:02 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps the Matrix will prove to be right after all. Give the machines a power source from mammal flesh. Now just add a little more AI...

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