Here is a piece of great news for the airline industry. Qatar Airways has become the first carrier to fly an Airbus A340 plane on natural gas fuel. The plane is powered by Rolls-Royce engines using a 50-50 blend of synthetic gas-to-liquids (GTL) fuel. That will cut down sulphur, corrosion, carbon dioxide and other emissions. Additionally, this type of fuel increases the flying range of aircraft.
The airline industry has been asked to bring down emission levels by 10% in the recent G-20 summit. The world airline industry has 19,000 planes consuming 208 billion litres of fuel every year causing an emission of 540 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The Qatar Airways experiment seems like a viable answer.
World powers are constantly seeking alternative fuels to reduce emission levels. Earlier, the erstwhile USSR has used aircraft fueled with alternative fuel like liquid hydrogen, liquefied natural gas 20-25 years ago. The USSR had used propane-butane fuels to fly helicopters in the 1970s.
In gas-run planes a fuel leak can be determined immediately because vapours form a concentration measurable for gasometry instruments. A gas leak leaves the crew with a better probability of escape. Gas has a higher combustion value than aviation fuel, which could improve the weight characteristics of aircraft.
In addition, aviation fuel may last for another 20-25 years whereas gas reserves are expected to last for the next 100 years.
Qatar has the world's third-largest gas reserves. GTL, although more expensive than kerosene, has a higher density and high calorific value that implies that more can be pumped into a plane to extend its flying range.