Test aircraft A380 MSN004 has flown between Filton and Toulouse with one engine powered by alternative fuel. The test, part of Airbus' research programme into alternative fuels, was run in collaboration with Shell International Petroleum and Rolls Royce.
The project is particularly important for environmental and economical reasons. Crude oil derived products are increasingly in demand and prices are rocketing. If it is possible to find a suitable alternative fuel, this could stabilise the market for the benefit of all. Secondly, some alternative fuels could be beneficial for the environment. It is Airbus' goal as a key stakeholder to support evolution towards a carbon neutral aviation industry. Alternative fuels may contribute to reducing our carbon footprint.
The tests were run on an A380 as it is the most modern aircraft flying today, however the fuel could equally have been tested on any Airbus aircraft. The alternative fuel used on the test flight was gas to liquid (GTL), which looks like kerosene, but is clear coloured. It is a natural gas, which has been cleaned and has undergone the Fischer-Tropsch process - the conversion of synthesis gas to liquid fuel.
The flight's goal was to see how the aircraft operated on GTL. Engine behaviour was observed as it was shut down and re-started in flight. Emissions will be compared with those of kerosene and the team will be using the results to predict the environmental benefits and define the next steps.
In researching alternative fuel, Airbus is looking for a drop-in product, meaning that it could be used in aircraft currently in service. It would equal or better the aircraft performance while offering environmental benefits. Airbus is hoping to establish what the best alternative fuel options are and how they will benefit the environment. As synthetic fuels are reported to have similar characteristics, whatever their original feedstock, this test was an excellent pre-cursor to research into biomass to liquid (BTL) fuels, should a suitable supply become available.
In order for an alternative fuel to qualify for commercial aviation, review and approval by the international Fuel Standards is a pre-requisite. Airbus is committed to this goal, and it is hoped that this will be obtained for GTL by 2013.
What are alternative fuels?
Video highlights of Airbus' successful first test flight using alternative fuel. (4.82 Mb)