Ross Burnham, South Africa

Ross obtained his MSc in Engineering from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in 2012. Prior to this he completed a BSc in Chemistry and a BSc (Honours) in Materials Science. His BSc (Honours) final year project garnered the award for the best Material Engineering final year project. Ross is currently employed as a Research Assistant at the Unviersity of Cape Town and is exploring potential research questions for a PhD study.

The main focus of his research has been on the interaction of polymeric materials with various chemical classes typically found in fuel systems. This research has led him to develop a strong interest in the oil and gas sector.


Flying into the future: The effect of fuel composition on seal performance in jet engine applications

The development of alternative fuels has been driven by concerns associated with the use of petroleum derived fuels, such as environmental issues, an expected escalation of the oil price and supply contraints. A number of alternative fuels such as Fischer-Tropsch synthetic jet fuels and hydrogenated esters and fatty acids have been mooted.

The use of these alternative fuels however, comes with its own set of challenges. They need to be fungible with existing fuels, requiring no engine modification and must be competible with polymeric materials in the fuel systems. Because the mooted alternative fuels contain no aromatic species, concern has been expressed that, when crude-derived jet fuel is replaced by synthetic fuels, older, hardened seals may shrink leading to potentially catastrophic fuel leakages. For this reason, international specifications for semi and fully synthetic jet fuels require the fuels to contain a minimum of 8% aromatic compounds.

The effects that various chemical classes have on the compatibility of jet fuel with nitrile rubber (NBR) seals will be presented. This material was chosen because previous studies have shown that it displays the most  sensitivity to fuel composition. The influence of molecular weight, paraffinic class and aromatic type (monoaromatic vs. multi-ring aromatic) as well as the substituent on the aromatic compounds on the swelling of NBR O-rings will be explored. This research has already provided important information for the tailoring of the composition of future jet fuels.



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