New Air TIES center in Technology exploring alternative aviation fuels

March 23, 2011

Purdue's College of Technology is the home of a new center focused on alternative aviation fuels.

The Air Transport Institute for Environmental Sustainability (Air TIES) is housed at the Purdue Airport. The institute brings together 39 faculty from four Purdue colleges to integrate alternative fuel expertise and research throughout the product life cycle.

"We will be taking a systems approach to aviation fuel sustainability," said David Stanley, co-director of Air TIES and associate professor of aviation technology. "From fuel feed stock, to testing, to production and distribution, we will work toward developing usable and practical products for the commercial and military arena."

Air TIES was approved in January by Richard Buckius, vice president for research.

The institute will draw on the expertise of faculty from the colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Technology while working with industry partners to ensure attention to their needs. These partnerships will keep faculty and student researchers focused on practical results while providing experience to graduate and undergraduate students.

As the institute was being designed, the co-directors identified two pressing needs that would help focus initial efforts for testing and research. First, the U.S. Air Force has set a goal to certify its fleet to fly with synthetic fuels by 2012 and to fly half of its fleet with synthetic fuels by 2016. Second, they realized that the financial viability of the U.S. aviation industry could be bolstered by offering a sustainable fuel alternative.

"The success of the aerospace industry has a direct impact on the economy and employment in Indiana and the Midwest," said Denver Lopp, co-director of Air TIES and professor of aviation technology. "The Air TIES approach to research and development will provide value-added agriculture bio-feedstock products for farmers, fuel production facilities near major airports and expanded support for the developing green aviation industry."

The institute will have access to several laboratories on campus to facilitate their work. At the Purdue Airport, its researchers will use the National Test Facility for Aerospace Fuels and Propulsion (also housed within the Department of Aviation Technology) to test potential fuels in turbine engines. Other labs include the Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels, the Bioenergy Research and Education Center, the High Pressure Laboratory and the Gas Turbine Combustion Facility.

Test outcomes must be applicable to current circumstances, the directors realize.

"The oil industry was built around oil; the infrastructure is already there. New fuel will have to fit seamlessly into what exists," Lopp said. "Likewise, we are not designing new turbine engines. We have to design fuel to fit what is already being used."

Because of that, another goal for the institute is to identify barriers to introducing and using alternative fuels and work with industry partners to overcome them.