Editorial Feature

Can Nanoparticle Fuel Additives Give Hope to Fossil Fuel Engines?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, has released the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report. The full report, to be finalized this month, intends to deliver the most up-to-date scientific data regarding climate change since the IPCC's previous findings. The information provided is extensive, impacting all industries as the global effort to tackle climate change continues. One of the issues highlighted is the impact of aviation contrails on global warming.

Here, we discuss how emissions from the aviation industry could be tackled by switching from traditional, non-renewable fuel to nanoparticle fuel. This innovation will likely impact the global aviation industry in the coming years as it strives to make adjustments to reach carbon neutrality.

How is the Aviation Industry Contributing to Climate Change?

According to the latest data from the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), flights produced 915 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2019, accounting for 2% of all human-induced  CO2 emissions and 12% of those attributed to the transportation industry.

Thankfully, the aviation industry has already taken significant steps to tackle this issue. Today, commercial aircraft is already 80% more fuel-efficient in comparison to their 1960's counterparts. Even when compared to the average flight 30 years ago, planes are producing half the level of emissions.

These improvements are due to several factors but are most strongly associated with improvements to aircraft design, making them more fuel-efficient. Alongside this is the adoption of sustainable aviation fuel in place of traditional fossil fuel. However, according to the IPCC's latest report, further improvements are needed for the aviation industry to cut CO2 emissions sufficiently to meet climate change goals.

Plane fueling up before take off, aviation fuel

Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

Nanoparticle Fuels Offer a Chance to Reduce Jet Engine Emissions

In recent years, there has been an explosion of research into fuel additives. Scientists are striving to design new fuels that will help reduce the CO2 emissions of the transportation industry, particularly the aviation sector.

One area that has gained much interest is using nanotechnology to develop nanofluids that could eventually be used to replace popular non-renewable jet fuels such as diesel.

Research has shown that the addition of specific nanoparticles, like silica nano additives, zinc, aluminum, and boron metalloids, can improve the fuel efficiency of current jet fuels. The infusion of such nanoparticles into regular jet fuels (with diesel being the most commonly studied fuel) has improved both the calorific value and cetane number of the tested fuels. Nanoparticles have also been shown to improve the efficiency of biodiesel fuel.

Previous efforts to incorporate nanoparticles into jet fuel have also increased fuel viscosity, flash point, and density. Furthermore, some studies have highlighted that unless nanoparticle fuel additives are kept under an upper limit, they can cause CO2 emissions to increase rather than reduce them.

To overcome this challenge, FuelGems have developed a nanoparticle fuel additive that can be added to diesel and gasoline jet engines. Results have shown that adding this nanoparticle results in a 9% reduction in carbon emissions, a 15% reduction in carbon monoxide, and a decrease in the emission of unburnt hydrocarbons and other particulate matter by up to 50%. Studies have also shown that it can increase fuel efficiency by 9%.

The additive developed by FuelGems is capable of transforming the aviation industry as it is cost-effective and does not require new infrastructure to work, meaning that it can easily be adopted by airlines worldwide. FuelGems' additive increases the cost of fuel per gallon by just two cents, a price the airline will recover by the increased fuel efficiency.

The Current Market for Nanoparticle Fuel Additives

Currently, the market for fuel additives is huge and is predicted to continue to grow in the coming years.

FuelGems estimates that it will be generating over $400 million in revenue in its sixth year. The increasing pressure for all industries, including the aviation industry, to become carbon neutral is propelling companies that create innovative and adaptable methods to reduce emissions. FuelGems is positioned to take advantage of this increased need for solutions that address climate change.

Key industry players such as BP British Petroleum, Suncor, and Marubeni have already expressed interest in FuelGems' solution. It has also generated a considerable amount of investment, including an initial $50,000 from Sputnik ATX, followed by a further $35,000.

FuelGems are considered to be in a unique market position, having robust scientific evidence to support their claims and offering a product that is easily adoptable by the industry.

What Does the Future Look Like for Nanoparticle Fuel Additives?

Nanoparticle fuel additives will likely play a vital role in the future of the aviation industry as it continues to work to reduce its carbon footprint. Unhindered by challenges, this solution to reducing CO2 emissions is likely to become a key player in giving hope to fossil fuel engines; being backed by scientific evidence demonstrating its practical, predictable, and tangible results will only enhance its potential.


Industrial Response to Climate Change 

This article is a part of the IPCC Editorial Series: Industrial Response to Climate Change, a collection of content exploring how different sectors are responding to issues highlighted within the IPCC 2018 and 2021 reports. Here, Nano showcases the research institutions, industrial organizations, and innovative technologies driving adaptive solutions to mitigate climate change. 

References and Further Reading

IPCC. (2018) Summary for Policymakers. Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/

IPCC. (2021) Summary for Policymakers. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf

Atag.org. (2020) Facts & figures. [online] Available at: https://www.atag.org/

Gad, M., Abdel Razek, S., Manu, P. and Jayaraj, S., (2021) Experimental investigations on diesel engine using alumina nanoparticle fuel additive. Advances in Mechanical Engineering, 13(2), p.168781402098840. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1687814020988402

Gavhane, R., et al. (2021) Influence of Silica Nano-Additives on Performance and Emission Characteristics of Soybean Biodiesel Fuelled Diesel Engine. Energies, 14(5), p.1489. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/en14051489

Businesswire.com. (2021) Green & Transformative Tech Startup FuelGems Raises $900K. [online] Available at: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210325005690/en/Green-Transformative-Tech-Startup-FuelGems-Raises-900K

Nanotech Magazine. (2021) Nanoparticles’ role in improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions - Nanotech Magazine. [online] Available at: https://www.nanotechmag.com/nanoparticles-role-in-improving-fuel-efficiency-and-reducing-emissions/

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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.


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