Lead-free airplane fuel testing is in progress at Lewis

Lead-free airplane fuel testing is in progress at Lewis University

Published: July 18, 2011.

Cars have been using lead-free fuel since the 1990s, but aircrafts still use the toxic substance. Lewis University students and faculty from aviation and chemistry areas are currently testing an environmentally-friendly alternative aviation fuel produced by Swift Enterprises of West Lafayette, Ind. The Lewis University research team is providing an independent laboratory to validate research findings that could lead to a new lead-free airplane fuel. The drop-in replacement fuel for aircrafts would result in less pollutant from aircraft engine emissions.

“We’re glad to work with industry on this important applied research opportunity. It could lead to quickly changing the industry standards to be more environmentally friendly,” commented Dr. Randal DeMik, Lewis University associate professor and director of graduate studies in Aviation and Transportation Studies program. A recent study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that between 1970 and 2007 the combustion of avgas has released approximately 34,000 tons of lead into the atmosphere and affects approximately three million children who attend school near aviation facilities.

The research project entails comparing the pollutant output of the Swift Enterprises fuel, 100SF, to industry-standard avgas, 100LL. Five general aviation engines are being measured during idle, cruise and maximum power configuration. Researchers expect a statistically significant decrease in measured pollutants, which include Carbon Monoxide, Nitric Oxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulfur Dioxide and Tetraethyl lead.

“It’s great that our chemistry students are able to get this applied research opportunity in the field of aviation. It’s a great chance to step outside of the lab to continue our studies on fuels that could change an industry and reduce engine emissions pollution,” commented Dr. Jason Keleher, assistant professor of Chemistry at Lewis University and Plainfield resident. Testing will be conducted on a few engines through mid-July. Results will be analyzed and published in peer-reviewed journals.

“This project will give me knowledge on how to conduct, analyze and make decisions based on data. It is crucial for policy setting,” commented Julius Keller, who is earning a master’s degree in Aviation and Transportation.

The Homewood resident is excited about how his data collection and analysis could change the industry and impact the greater community. He said, “This project could lead to additional research in regards to replacing the current fuel. It could help sustain general aviation for the next generations to come.”

The Lewis University research team members working on the project include students, faculty and staff. DeMik of Plainfield and Keleher serve as the principal investigators. Graduate student researchers include: Natalie Kasak of Elmhurst, Jordan Raess of Aurora, Julius Keller of Homewood and Jennifer Pfeiffer of Lockport. Undergraduate student researchers include: Paul Smith of Plainfield, Jackie de Leon Ponce of Chicago and Alesandro Mazza of River Grove. Consultants include Bill Wetstein, instructor of Airframe & Powerplant maintenance, Jon Palek of EMS-gas and Ron Adams of Swift Enterprises.

A grant from the Colonel Stephen S. and Lyla Doherty Center for Aviation and Health Research is supporting the research project. The Doherty Center funds research and scholarly initiatives; encourages partnerships among the University, its students and the community; provides opportunities for research experiences for students with faculty mentors. Investigators supported by the Doherty Center have focused on areas such as: risk reduction in children with asthma, prediction of emergency department surge capacity, examination of the growth and spread of pathogens and career development for mental health professionals.

Lewis University is a Catholic university offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 6,000 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares ethically grounded, globally aware, and socially responsible graduates. The ninth largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.



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