Seeing an aircraft in the sky is a common sight. What’s also common is the cloud-like trail these aircraft leave behind called contrails. NASA has recently published a new study in collaboration with DLA ATRA aircraft investigating alternative fuels.
The study suggests that cleaner-burning jet fuels made of stable resources produce 50 to 70 percent fewer ice crystal contrails at cruising altitude. This will help reduce the impact aviation has on the environment. Ice crystal formations can stay in the upper atmosphere for hours and impact the planet’s heating and cooling mechanism.
Alternative fuel cause less impact on environment
The space agency says that contrails produce localized temperature rise leading to climate change in the long run. NASA scientist Richard Moore says that researchers are aware of the impact of contrail formation from the jet exhaust on the climate is higher when compared to carbon dioxide. The new study provides an opportunity to use fuels to make immediate changes to help save the planet from suffering.
Contrails are formed from jet engine exhaust that has water vapor and soot particles. When the temperature of the vapor drops, ice crystals are formed when super-cooled water comes in contact with the exhaust soot present in the air.
Alternative jet fuels release less soot, which eventually forms fewer ice crystals. NASA notes that the crystals formed using alternative fuels are larger but do not create the same issue as they fall more quickly and melt due to warm air below.
50-70% reduction in emission
Moore notes computer models show that contrail ice crystal numbers will vary and will be proportional to the engine exhaust particle emissions. NASA used a DLR Advanced Technology Research Aircraft A320 airliner for the experiment. The aircraft was burning alternative biofuels.
A NASA DC8 flying laboratory trailed the aircraft to analyze and sample gases and particles while the aircraft is airborne. The study found that a mix of half biofuel and half regular fuel reduced emissions by around 50 to 70 percent. The researchers couldn’t study contrails as the atmospheric conditions weren’t suitable for contrail formation.