Posts Tagged aerospace

Putting Algae In The Tank

Posted by on Tuesday, 12 January, 2010


Energy: Riding The Algal Wave.

Jet engines decorate our skies with their sunlight sparkled contrails. While sharing, generously, their carbon dioxide with our oh so delicate atmosphere.

Airplanes, alone, contribute 2 to 3 percent of all of the CO2 emissions – a lot for just one single human activity. When you think of all forms of transportation including planes, cars, trucks, trains, ships, barges, and whatnot they (airplanes) are responsible for about one fifth of the total.

Do you worry about such things? Do you think global warming’s an over hyped pseudo scientific fraud?

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad doesn’t like to make a big controversial mess out of himself so if you think the whole carbon thing’s all nonsense, I will let you go. You probably have other stuff to do right now anyway. The rest of you can move up into the empty chairs while I explain what the airline industry intends to do about this.

First I should explain that airplanes have a little too much oomph to run on solar energy. And hydrogen fuel cell’s are still more dreamish than realish. The practical answer appears to be some form of fuel made from renewable substances and algae seems to the renewable substance of the moment.

But the fuel requirements for the turbine engines that run jet aircraft are pretty stringent.

You would think!

It get very cold in the stratosphere. And the pressure changes considerably from down here to up there. Diesel, with its high flash point and low volatility isn’t a very good fuel for jets. And early forms of biodiesel tended to get cloudy and clog up at low temperatures. At 30,000 feet, you really WANT a good fuel. Don’t you? Failure is not (a very desirable) option. And, by the way, the flammability of jet fuel is a terrifically important consideration in the event of an airplane accident where spilled fuel can change a survivable crash into a hopeless inferno.

The delays in implementing a new kind of fuel aren’t just foot dragging. This isn’t an easy problem. Because of all this, for the foreseeable future, any solution is likely to be a mix of conventional fuel with biofuel.

What are the real prospects for replacing (or at least reducing) reliance on kerosene? In 2008, Boeing figured we would be able to transition to a 30/70 biofuel/kerosene mixture within 3 to 5 years.

Are we on track?

I asked Adele C Schwartz, a well respected journalist with lots of professional experience in the air transportation industry (oh and my sister) where to find information on this topic and she pointed me to an article by Geoffrey Thomas in Air Transport World which is fairly encouraging about the prospects for the airline industry getting itself over to algae based “biodiesel”. Sapphire Energy seems to think it’s good for a million gallons of biodiesel and biojet by next year.

But Thomas’s article emphasizes that this isn’t likely to happen without government incentives playing a major role.

One would hope!

Where WOULD this country be if we didn’t look to government to take the lead in innovation and risk?

Qian Xuesen – A Genius. An Engima

Posted by on Sunday, 8 November, 2009
Qian_Xue-SenImage by Gang Lee

AeronauticalEngineering: OK foot. Hold still or I’ll SHOOT!

Quian Xuesen died.

Don’t feel bad.  I didn’t know the name either.

He was born in 1911 in Hankzhou and – long story – managed to come to the US.  He got a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering at MIT and then received his Phd at California Institute of Technology.


He was one of the top rocket scientists in the United States in the 40’s (You  guessed, right?). He helped us develop the technology for jet aircraft and he was part of the Manhattan project (Atomic Bomb). Xuesen is said to have left his mark on our current space program. At the end of World War II,  he was one of the ”chosen” who negotiated with famous German (then Nazi) rocket pioneer Wernher Von Braun about coming to work for the good guys in America.

A delicate assignment

But he was Chinese.

And he scared some people.

And, of course, he may have been a spy. Mister ScienceAintSoBad wouldn’t know about that. The record’s a little sketchy but, supposedly, someone came up with a communist party document that had his name on it.

It was enough for the FBI.

He was booted back to China in 1955 which the Undersecretary of the Navy said was the stupidest thing this country ever did.

Could be.

Qian Xuesen was warmly welcomed in China where he spent the rest of his life helping them catch up with us. He headed up their missile development program and his individual contributions to Chinese technology were vast.

What can I tell you?

He died on October 31st.