For the first time, an An-32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flew with blended bio-jet fuel produced from Jatropha oil, unlocking the possibility of gradually expanding it to the entire service at some point. This has the dual benefit of reducing the carbon footprint as well as usage of fossil fuels.
“The maiden IAF flight of December 17, 2018 was flown by highly qualified test pilots from the Aircraft and System Testing Establishment (ASTE), under the supervision of Air Officer Commanding, Chandigarh,” Wg. Cdr. A Shrivastava, Research Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, wrote in an article published on the think tank’s website.
He said India had thus joined a league of select nations to have “developed, tested and certified” a single step Hydro-processed Renewable Jet (HRJ) process to convert non-edible oil into biofuel for use on military aircraft.
“IAF carried out extensive engine tests on the ground. This is now followed by flight trials using 10% bio-jet blended Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF),” IAF said in a statement.
Cleared last week
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa had earlier announced that the IAF intended to fly the An-32 with 10% bio-jet fuel at the Republic Day flypast on January 26 next year.
This bio-jet fuel technology was developed by the Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 2009 and tested between 2011 and 2013. Following extensive evaluation, including performance ground runs on the aero-engine since 2018, the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) cleared the trial flight last week.
Wg. Cdr. Shrivastava stated that the IAF was funding the entire testing and certification programme and also providing its aircraft and engine test facilities.
An uphill task
According to the article, on completion of the entire testing process on An-32 aircraft and notification of new standards for blended fuel, the IAF may decide to examine and certify the use of bio-jet fuel on other fixed and rotary wing aircraft, including fighters.
However, scalability of bio-fuel usage is an uphill task due to availability and supply chain issues. While several studies have been undertaken to promote its use in various sectors, commercial usage of bio-fuel usage has a sketchy history in India. It needs policy intervention to incentive the entire supply chain, from production of the crops to its distribution.
Giving an estimate of the challenge, the article states that the IAF would require over 3,000 Kilo Litres of bio-fuel annually just for operating the AN-32 fleet with a 10% mix.