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UND Aerospace makes transition to unleaded aviation fuel

Along with using a safer and more environmentally friendly fuel, UND Aerospace steps up sustainability efforts

people standing in front of a fuel truck
Robert Kraus, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences (center, wearing a suit), stands for a photo with UND faculty and staff members near a truck containing the first unleaded aviation fuel to be used at UND. (Photo by Arjun Jagada/UND Aerospace

UND Aerospace is among a small group of collegiate aviation institutions that are leading the way in switching to unleaded aviation fuel, commonly referred to as avgas.

That switch was made on June 22, following the depletion of the aerospace college’s final gallons of 100 Low Lead fuel, called 100LL. UND Aerospace is now using UL94, an unleaded avgas that will help UND save money through reduced aircraft maintenance costs, while functioning as a cleaner, more environmentally friendly fuel.

A number of UND faculty members have also begun conducting research into environmental sustainability efforts, with the intent to inform policy development and assist other aviation colleges in switching to the unleaded avgas.

“Transitioning our fleet to UL94 continues the long history of UND Aerospace leading the way,” said Robert Kraus, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. “With our ability to collect and analyze data, both on and off our airplanes and helicopters, we will help the Federal Aviation Administration with policy development and other collegiate aviation programs and flight training schools who are considering the switch.”

UL94 is produced by Swift Fuels, a West Lafayette, Ind.-based research-and-design firm that develops fuel process technology and makes high-performance fuels. Swift Fuels is the sole producer of UL94 unleaded avgas, which is now being used at UND. Earlier in June, UND Aerospace received its first shipment of UL94 avgas. It is currently the only approved UL94 fuel that can be used in the kinds of aircraft that make up UND’s fleet.

According to Daniel Kasowski, manager of flight support services, using UL94 is expected to significantly improve maintenance costs for UND aircraft, which will lead to improved productivity of student-pilots and flight instructors.

Fueling UND aircraft with UL94 will help UND Aerospace avoid maintenance issues that occur when using leaded avgas, which fouls aircraft engines with lead deposits. The new fuel will extend the interval between oil changes and reduce the frequency of spark plug replacements and other mechanical issues and delays that interrupt a flight schedule.

Kasowski said switching to the new unleaded avgas will allow UND to increase the required maintenance inspection interval for its aircraft by 25%. In 2022, UND Aerospace Aircraft Technicians performed 1,432 mandated aircraft inspections. The new fuel could potentially reduce the number of those inspections by about 270 per year.

“Fewer aircraft inspections per year will mean less aircraft down time, resulting in improved aircraft availability for flight training, and reduced maintenance costs,” Kasowski said. “We also anticipate reduced costs for spark plugs, oil, filters and internal engine parts.”

Kasowski noted that the manufacturers of UND’s aircraft have been very supportive of the college’s transition to UL94, including increasing the maintenance interval by 25% without jeopardizing aircraft safety.

The change to unleaded avgas has also spurred research at the Aerospace College through the establishment of aviation sustainability research initiatives.

Among other areas, sustainability research includes monitoring lead levels in the air near UND’s facilities at Grand Forks Airport. Initial research into pilot perceptions on using unleaded avgas found a significant majority of respondents to a UND survey believe changing to unleaded fuel is important, as is removing lead from the environment.

UND aviation professor Kimberly Kenville has played a significant role in making the switch to unleaded avgas. Kenville was among a group of scholars who sat on the Committee on Lead Emissions from Piston-Powered General Aviation Aircraft. Alongside the National Academy of Sciences, the committee compiled a congressionally mandated report titled “Options for Reducing Lead Emissions from Piston-Engine Aircraft” in early 2021.

The report noted that leaded aviation fuel became the leading source of lead pollution in the country, after leaded gasoline for automobiles was discontinued in 1996, and that “there is no known safe level of lead in blood.”

“Switching to UL94 is a benefit not only for the aircraft, but for the environment and for human health,” said Nicholas Wilson, associate professor of aviation. Wilson is conducting research into pilot perceptions of sustainable aviation.

Along with Kenville, UND professors involved in sustainable aviation research include David Delene, Nicholas Wilson, Ryan Guthridge, Michael Lents, Jeffrey VanLooy, Brandon Wild and Andrew Leonard.

man fueling aircraft
A UND staff member fuels an aircraft with UL94. Photo by Arjun Jagada/UND Aerospace