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Safer Jet Fuels

October 7, 2015

Researchers have designed a new jet fuel additive that could stop out-of-control fires.



640px-Pan_Am_Boeing_747_at_Zurich_Airport_in_May_1985 Eduard Marmet CC BY-SA-3.0

A Boeing 747 Pan Am jet like this one was involved in the worst aviation disaster in history on March 27, 1977. (Eduard Marmet/CC BY-SA-3.0, via Wikipedia)

Making jet fuels safer. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

History’s worst airplane crash occurred when two jetliners collided on an airport runway in the Canary Islands in 1977, killing nearly 600 people. The loss of life could have been minimized if the fuels aboard the airplanes hadn’t dispersed into fine mists, exploding into a deadly fireball. This according to Caltech chemical engineer Julia Kornfield.


In the event of any crash, there’s always sources of sparks. So you’re guaranteed ignition will occur. And to really reduce the severity and the duration of that fire so that people could then open the doors and walk away, you need to inhibit the mist formation.


Kornfield’s team reports in the journal Science that they’ve designed a new fuel additive made out of long, self-assembling chemical polymers that can control fine mists to prevent explosions. I’m  Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.