Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University plans to phase in lead-free renewable fuel in its training aircraft, the nation’s largest collegiate fleet. The university is partnering with Swift Enterprises, developer of a biofuel that has been tested by the FAA Technical Center with promising results.
“We believe this effort by Embry-Riddle and Swift will guide the way to a large-scale switch by the general aviation industry to alternative fuels,” said Richard “Pat” Anderson, associate professor of aerospace engineering and chief investigator in the research project.
Engineers in the Eagle Flight Research Center, a laboratory in the College of Engineering at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus, will perform the certification testing needed to enable more than 40 Cessna 172s, nearly half of the university’s fleet of 95 aircraft, to use Swift fuel. Anderson is the research center’s director.
When the changeover is complete, Embry-Riddle will be the first large aviation organization to move to unleaded, renewable aviation fuel.
Small aircraft, which burn nearly 190 million gallons of aviation fuel a year, contribute 45% of the lead emissions in the nation’s air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Removing lead from airplane fuel has been technically challenging, because lead prevents detonation in airplane engines, which have much higher compression than car engines.
Embry-Riddle officials said they chose to partner with Swift Enterprises because the company’s non-leaded fuel has passed the FAA’s detonation test and gets more miles per gallon than current aviation fuel. The fuel can be synthesized from sorghum, a renewable biomass source.