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Water-in-Fuel Sensor
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- Isis Project No 78451

A quantitative and simple method for detecting absorbed water in aviation fuel.

BackgroundCrash of BA38

Water in fuel is a serious problem, especially in aviation where the water can freeze and block the flow of fuel to the engine. This was the cause of the crash of BA38, a Boeing 777, on its approach to Heathrow from Beijing in January 2008. Fortunately no one was killed.

The accident was caused by normal levels of dissolved water condensing out into the fuel to form an emulsion, as the bulk fuel temperature dropped at high altitude. As the temperature of the fuel fell below the freezing point of water, the water entrained in the fuel froze and neighbouring ice crystals agglomerated to form larger crystals. These blocked the fuel filters, as shown in the photograph taken from the BA38 accident investigation report.

The market needImage of blocked fuel filter

The aviation industry has been aware of the water in fuel problem since the 1950’s and has addressed this with several technologies including a test for undissolved water in aviation fuel. Tests are typically made on fuel prior to fuelling the aircraft, but no subsequent tests are made on the fuel in the tank (other than occasional sumping of water from the tanks).

To date, there is no standard test to determine the amount of water in aviation fuel and there exists an opportunity to measure the amount of dissolved water in fuel to determine when, and how much water will condense out into the fuel during flight.

The technology

The Photonics Research Group at Aston University has addressed this market need by developing a reusable and repeatable test based on optical fibre technology.Graph

The fibre is immersed into a fuel-water mixture and, as the graph shows, the signal from the fibre changes in the presence of water. The effect can be measured using a simple optical setup and the water concentration can be measured within minutes


Unique selling points

  • Only available test for dissolved water
  • Quantitative measurement
  • Reusable and repeatable

About Isis Enterprise

Isis Enterprise is a technology transfer and innovation management consultancy business that helps technology providers and seekers to source, develop and commercialise new innovations. For more information about this project, please contact us using the link below.