New polymer jet fuel additive could save lives in a catastrophe

Aircraft carry huge amounts of fuel to get to their destination and that fuel is highly flammable in the event of some sort of air catastrophe that forces the aircraft to crash. Anyone who has ever seen footage of an air crash knows that the ball of flame created can be massive and sometimes the fire and explosion resulting are more lethal than the crash itself. Scientists at Caltech have invented a polymer that could help significantly reduce the fireball associated with an air crash.

Caltech researchers worked in conjunction with scientists form JPL to develop a new polymeric fuel additive that is able to reduce the post-impact explosion risk that is posed by Jet-A fuel. The preliminary tests on the additive have shown that it is able to provide this benefit of reducing the explosion risk without adversely affecting fuel performance.

Jet engines require a fine spray of jet fuel that is ignited with an electronic spark to operate. That same system that provides fuel while in flight poses a significant fire risk in the event of a crash. The additive is a long molecule made of repeating subunits that are capped at each end by units that react like Velcro. That means that they can link into very long chains called megasupramolecules.

Those megasupramolecules have a combination of properties that allow them to control the misting properties of Jet-A fuel while increasing the flow of fuel through a pipeline and reducing the formation of soot and being able to reduce misting in a crash. The result is fuel that behaves as it needs when conditions are optimal and is much less likely to cause an explosion during an accident.