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Researching alternative fuels for use in aviation sector

The aviation sector is under scrutiny over fuels in today’s heightened awareness of the environment, pushing the need for alternate fuels

For Dr Simon Blakey, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, much of his research activity has focused on the technical suitability of alternative fuels for aviation sector and the development of methods for the “fit for purpose” assessment of potential fuels and fuel compositions.  This includes combustion performance, with a particular focus on fuel system and fuel compatibility.

Alternative aviation fuels

The relative growth of the aviation sector, coupled with concerns around the environmental impact and future security of fuels supply has caused a rapid development of alternative fuels for the aviation gas turbine community. During the 2000’s the focus was very much on demonstrating the technical suitability of novel fuel compositions, which is now demonstrated, and the discussion has moved on to environmental impact. Dr Blakey was fortunate enough to present his work in this area at an ICAO seminar in February 2017.

His strategy is to investigate the compositional effects of fuel on the specification and performance properties of the fuel with a view to building tools to predict the behaviour of any fuel from a knowledge of its chemistry alone. This has meant the development of proposals (H2020 proposals, FlexJET (co-ordinated by Chemical Engineering at Birmingham University), SWAFEA and JETSCREEN) to work in collaboration with other groups around the world on this common theme (SBRI, NJFP, FAA, ECATS). Within the Low Carbon Combustion Centre at the University of Sheffield, where Dr Blakey previously worked, their specialisation has been very much on Particulate Matter emissions measurement systems, elastomer compatibility and thermal stability of aviation fuels.

Thermal stability

Much of Dr Blakey’s work from 2004 until the present has been focused on understanding the complex thermal, flow and chemical processes behind fuel thermal stability. This has required a focus on the development of range of experimental techniques, empirical models and more complete numerical models which has now culminated in the award of the FINCAP ClearSky2 and JETSCREEN H2020 grants.

Dr Blakey’s strategy is to develop models which can be scaled between the numerous experimental methods for the assessment of fuel behaviour. For this work, they have collaborated with Dr. Meijer in the Computational Chemistry Group and Dr. Mumtaz in the Additive Manufacturing Group at Sheffield University and internationally, IFP and ONERA in France and the USAF and Dayton University in the USA.

Process Industry Energy Efficiency

The process industries are a major emitter of CO2 but lack the investment in understanding and improving their energy efficiency common in larger scale sectors. Dr Blakey’s research has led him to believe there are large efficiency gains to be made through the analysis of and redesign of heating processes within these plants and permit the development of heat transfer relationships in these more realistic and academically challenging environments. he has already demonstrated an impact in these areas with my PhD and three KTP awards with the Wedge Group Ltd in the West Midlands.