As part of efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking to fly an AN-32 transport aircraft modified to operate on 10% blended biodiesel for 200 flight hours in the next six months, said Air Vice Marshal S. K. Jain, Assistant Chief of Air Force (maintenance plans).
The IAF AN-32 took flight on biodiesel blended with aviation turbine fuel (ATF) for the first time in December 2018.
“So far an AN-32 has flown 65 hours with a 10% blend of biofuel and the performance has been very satisfactory,” AVM Jain said, speaking a seminar on sustainable aviation biofuels organised by The Aeronautical Society of India on Friday. The target is to fly 200 flight hours, which should happen within the next six months
A second aircraft, a Dornier, is currently undergoing ground tests after which it will undertake its first flight. The Dornier had been cleared by the original engine manufacturer of the engine, Honeywell, for use of 50% biofuel, AVM Jain said.
The global aviation industry, both civil and military, is one of the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases which cause global warming. It is imperative that the industry finds ways to reduce its carbon footprint for global efforts to achieve ‘net zero emissions’ to be successful. The annual fuel consumption of the IAF for 2021-22 was 6.2 lakh kilo litres, which contributed around 15 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide.
On the civil aviation front, an official from aircraft manufacturer Airbus said it had plans to offer 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) compatibility on its commercial aircraft latest by 2030. “We plan to be the first major aircraft manufacturer to offer a climate neutral commercial aircraft by 2035,” said Julien Manhes, project leader SAF of Airbus.
Following the maiden flight in December 2018, the AN-32, powered by a blend of biodiesel, flew over the Rajpath during the Republic Day flypast on January 26, 2019.
The biofuel was extracted from Jatropha plant seeds using a technology patented by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun.
The project for the development of blended fuel was conceptualised in January 2018 with CSIR and IIP Dehradun as the development agency. The development order was issued on October 17, 2018, for the delivery of 8,700 litres of blended fuel at a cost of ₹ 5.43 crore, AVM Jain explained.
The plan is eventually to expand the usage of aviation turbine fuel blended with biodesel to all fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft through evaluation and certification. Such usage has the dual benefit of reducing carbon footprint as well reducing the usage of fossil fuels, which will also result in savings for the IAF.
However, there are significant challenges in production and supply chain to ensure the IAF gets enough Jatropha and at reasonable rates. Availability of biodiesel in enough quantities was the biggest challenge, one official stated on the sidelines of the seminar.
Commenting on the maiden flight, Group Captain A. Shrivastava, then a Wing Commander and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, wrote in an article published on the think tank’s website then that India has 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.
Giving an estimate of the challenges involved, the article added that the IAF would require over 3,000 kilo litres of biofuel annually just for operating the AN-32 fleet with a 10% biofuel mix.
The blend of 90% ATF and 10% biodiesel received certification from the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) valid for two years, up to November 2023.
On the way forward, AVM Jain added that there was scope for increasing the blend ratio to 50-50% and also stressed the need for mass production of biodiesel.
The country’s first mass production bio-ATF plant is being set up by Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL), a subsidiary of ONGC, fully integrated with its refinery at Mangaluru in Karnataka.
Speaking of the progress, V. Nandakumar, group general manager (corporate strategy), MRPL, said the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had advised MRPL to set up a bio-ATF plant integrated with its refinery in September 2020. The MRPL board has approved the project to set up a demo-plant to manufacture 20 KLPD at an approximate cost of ₹300 crore in August 2022 and the plant is expected to be ready in 2025.