Renewable Jet-Fueled Rocket Approaches the Sound Barrier

The EERC's fuel was created from completely renewable crop oils, such as canola and soybeans.

Renewable jet propellant-8 (JP-8) fuel developed and produced by the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota was successfully flown in a rocket built by Flometrics, Inc., a product engineering company specializing in fluid dynamics and thermodynamics based in San Diego, California.

The fuel burn was so successful that the rocket approached Mach 1 (the speed of sound) and reached an altitude of about 20,000 feet. The launch was conducted on a hot summer day in the Mojave Desert, home to numerous aviation and rocket tests throughout history, just outside of San Diego.

"The demonstration worked very well, and we were pleased with the fuel. In fact, it performed better than expected," said Steve Harrington, President of Flometrics. "The initial launch was a little explosive, which we call a hard-start, but it ended up working very well. The rocket appeared to have reached the transonic regime close to Mach 1. The data are currently being evaluated for more details on this exciting flight," he said.

The EERC's fuel was created from completely renewable crop oils, such as canola and soybeans. Developed through a variety of existing contracts, the fuel was vigorously tested at the WrightPatterson Air Force Base Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), a cosponsor of the test along with the EERC and Flometrics, and meets all of the screening criteria for JP-8 aviation fuel, a petroleum-based fuel widely used by the U.S. military. The major advantage of the EERCs renewable fuel is that the fuel can be designed to meet a wide variety of mission-specific requirements.

About 8 gallons of fuel was sent to the Flometrics research facilities, enough for two launches. The rocket used in the launch was originally built as a test rocket for the Discovery Channel series MythBusters. The rocket has previously been tested with standard Jet-A fuel and rocket propellant-1 (RP-1) kerosene, for which the rocket was originally designed.

"This is a unique opportunity for the EERC's renewable fuel," said EERC Director Gerald Groenewold. "Our fuel is already providing a pathway to energy security to the U.S. military and now is becoming an option for ground-to-air missiles and even space flight." Groenewold added the fuel burns extremely clean, minimizing the environmental footprint and substantially reducing upper atmospheric particulate.

The EERC is currently securing further funding for more extensive rocket testing of the fuel. The AFRL may also be testing the fuel in this type of high-propulsion scenario.

Video of the rocket launch is available at www.undeerc.org.

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