LSU Engineering Researchers Working on Sustainable Aviation Fuels

November 10, 2022

Art depicting plane releasing green emissionsBATON ROUGE, LA – There has been much written about the need to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change. As part of that effort, there is intense interest from government and industry in Sustainable Aviation Fuels, or SAFs, as they are currently the only viable short-term solution to decarbonizing aviation emissions.

However, SAFs face a critical hurdle because of the time and expense required to ensure candidate fuels, particularly from emerging feedstocks, can pass successfully through the aviation fuel certification process.

LSU Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Shyam Menon is leading a group of LSU Engineering faculty in a $1.14 million U.S. Department of Energy-funded project that will develop an improved pre-screening strategy for candidate SAFs and then apply it to their own SAF synthesized from raw materials, such as sugarcane bagasse and forestry residue. The funding includes cost-share support from LSU through MIE, the College of Engineering, and LSU’s Office of Research & Economic Development to purchase laser diagnostic equipment supporting this research.

“This three-year project will arrive at merit function relationships, which given a fuel sample, as well as its physical properties, will predict how well it will burn and release energy in an aviation gas turbine engine,” Menon said. “The relationships, which forms the basis of the pre-screening strategy, will be arrived at through machine-learning algorithms applied to data collected through experimental and computational work at LSU to derive sensitivity coefficients of the fuel’s combustion metrics to its physical properties. The derived functional relationships can be used to evaluate a new biofuel candidate and determine what one could expect from the fuel in terms of performance in an aviation gas turbine engine.

“A stretch goal, or ‘lagniappe’ deliverable for the project, is to come full circle and use the validated relationships to attempt to tune the biofuel synthesis process itself so as to arrive at a fuel or blend starting from the specific raw material—bagasse or forestry residue—having just the right physical properties to give optimal combustion performance in an aviation engine.”

In developing the pre-screening strategy, Menon and his team will partner with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) to leverage their expertise, instruments, and modeling capabilities. More specifically, NREL will use its Advanced Fuel Ignition Delay Analyzer tool to help measure a Derived Cetane number for fuel samples. This number correlates to ignition properties of a fuel. NREL’s measurements will be used to validate LSU’s related measurements. ANL will work with LSU Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Ope Owoyele, a member of Menon’s team, to develop multi-fidelity machine-learning algorithms, which will use measurement and simulation data for a gas turbine combustor generated at LSU, to find correlations between combustion metrics and fuel physical properties through hyperparameter optimization.

“We hope that our primary research goal…will prove an effective pre-screening tool to aid in the development of sustainable aviation fuels from a variety of sources by reducing the risk associated with sending the fuel sample through a costly and time-consuming aviation fuel certification process,” Menon said. “There is intense interest in SAFs currently in government and industry, as it remains the only viable short-term solution to de-carbonize aviation emissions and impact global climate change. Sustained global growth in aviation demand, lack of technological alternatives, and global competition for oil has driven the DOE, DOT, and USDA to launch an SAF grand challenge to meet 100% of aviation fuel demand through SAFs by 2050.”

Menon and Owoyele are joined on the team by LSU Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Ingmar Schoegl and LSU Biological and Agricultural Engineering Professor Dorin Boldor.

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Contact: Joshua Duplechain
Director of Communications