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Sep 10, 2010

First general aviation engine powers light aircraft with biofuel

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Local general aviation company Adept Airmotive has developed the first general aviation engine that is able to power a light aircraft with a range of environment-friendly alternative fuels, such as biofuels and liquid petroleum gas.

The Adept 320T engine, which powered a South African-designed, all-composite SA Ravin 500 light aircraft, in May, at Virginia airport, in Durban, can also run on normal unleaded petrol, with an octane rating as low as 85, and current low-lead standard aviation fuel, reports Adept Airmotive MD Richard Schulz.

The 158-kg liquid-cooled engine, which produces 320 hp and has an advanced electronic engine management system in place, sets new standards in performance and low life-cycle costs.

Schulz says that the 120º V6 engine has low-lead nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions and reduced noise levels and high levels of strength, durability and smoothness.

“The process of taking a concept, in terms of a biofueled aircraft, and turning it into a reality has opened up huge scope in catering for the environment-friendly and cost-effective demands of new forms of fuel that are coming on stream,” he says.

As engines in the aviation industry typically have a life cycle of about 35 years, the latest technology had to be forward thinking and be able to adapt to any future fuel demands. In line with this aim, Adept decided to incorporate, in the design features and specifications, the ability to handle all potential nonfossil fuels.

“Adept identified that the current fuels used in general aviation, excluding the heavy fuels, such as diesel, all rely on adding lead and heavy metal additives to the fuel, which does not comply with the US or European aviation authorities’ legislative and regulatory acts.”

Adept used a digital prototyping design process that enabled it to use digital design data contained in three-dimensional models from concept to final component. A full suite of hard tooling now exists for commercial production, says Schulz.

This was the first time that an emission-free foundry process was used in the production of engine castings in South Africa, and has only recently been introduced by a major European automotive manufacturer.

The process is the result of Adept and Ashland Sud-Chemie, a German foundry chemicals company, combining technologies, he says.

Adept, which was established seven years ago, received its initial funding for the project from private investment company Tanglewood Private Equity. The Department of Science and Technology’s Innovation Fund invested R10,5-million to fund the company to preproduction stage.

Currently, the expenditure is at about R15-million, excluding the commercialisation costs, and setting up the infrastructure to go into volume manufacturing, says Schulz.

Adept is now in discussion with many investors for funding up to full production. The company also has hopes for additional government support for the next critical 12- to 18-month commercialisation stage, he adds.

The company is also working towards getting its regu- latory certification in place through the European Aviation Safety Authorities (EASA) to start supplying engines in numbers, which was not originally anticipatted.

“The certification will ramp up production and open up markets that are not currently viable for Adept unless the company has its certification from the EASA.”

Adept is working closely with composite aircraft manufacturer Ravin on the further development of the Ravin 500 aircraft, as well as a twin-engine aircraft with advanced avionics packages installed, to develop an all- African range of general aviation aircraft, using only local suppliers and materials, he says.

“Adept, with its new engine developments, believes that it is accelerating the development of aviation technology and providing a catalyst for the creation of a viable and profit- able South African general aviation manufacturing industry,” Schulz concludes.

Edited by: Brindaveni Naidoo
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