Energy Center

New Purdue Facility to Test Aircraft Engines, Fuels

November 19, 2009

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University will operate a new federally funded facility to test aircraft engines and develop alternative fuels in work that also aims to reduce the nation's reliance on imported oil.

The National Test Facility for Fuels and Propulsion is funded with a $1.35 million grant from the U.S. Air Force and will be housed in the Niswonger Aviation Technology Building at the Purdue Airport.

"The aerospace industry now has an unprecedented interest in developing green aircraft using biofuels," said David L. Stanley, an associate professor of aeronautical engineering technology at Purdue and principal investigator of the facility. "Testing will be conducted while fuels are being researched for development. This means input will be provided during the development phase, not after the fuel has been developed, which helps to ensure the best results possible."

The facility, expected to open in late 2010 or early 2011, will test aerospace hardware in engines and aircraft and provide data related to fuel-sustainability and emissions goals and for economic assessments.

"This is a multidisciplinary research approach that begins with growing crops, developing fuels from those crops in the laboratory and then testing those fuels in engines," said Denver Lopp, a professor of aviation technology and one of two co-principal investigators.

The other co-principal investigator is J. Mark Thom, a professor of aviation technology.

Work will focus on jet engines but will include some testing related to piston engines.

"The project involves faculty members in the colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Technology to develop a well-rounded and capable research team for fuels research, with particular focus on aviation and aerospace," Lopp said. "Purdue is strong in each of these areas, and having an airport also enhances these strengths."

The researchers will work with the Air Force, industry and government agencies to develop the fuels.

"Roughly 17 billion gallons of turbine fuel are burned annually in the United States, and clearly a portion of this could be saved by blending alternative fuels," Stanley said. "The U.S. Air Force intends to be able to operate its fleet on blends of these fuels."

The work will tackle four major bottlenecks to aerospace progress: access to hardware testing; development of control logic and systems permitting flex-fuel operation and realization of improved efficiencies; sustainability of biofuels related to crop productivity, as well as bio and synthetic fuels' ability to meet both near- and long-term aerospace requirements; and regulatory compliance.

"The overall goal is to update and maintain a multifaceted national testing facility with dedicated administration to support development and testing of alternative energy sources for aerospace equipment," Lopp said. "This facility will address all energy sources and will not be an advocate of any particular fuel."

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Sources:   David Stanley, 765-494-6266, stanledl@purdue.edu

                   Denver Lopp, 765-494-6387, denver@purdue.edu

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