Piloting greener fuel

 By Amanda Saint

Although the first commercial flights using biofuels took place back in 2011, there are currently no viable greener aviation fuel options widely available. This could be set to change as a UK biofuels company has created a low-cost and energy-efficient bio-aviation fuel for use in jet engines…

The company is Green Fuels Research (GFR), which was established in 2013 to develop new technologies in the areas of alternative fuel and energy. The patented new fuel is called Biojet and it is created from a simple technological process that will enable the world’s airlines to improve their environmental performance and cut carbon emissions. It will allow existing biodiesel producers to easily upgrade their production facilities in order to manufacture this new bio-aviation fuel.

Biojet overcomes the key obstacle of using fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) in aviation biofuel, namely low-temperature performance. Although FAME is well established as a biofuel base for heat, power and automobiles, its widespread use in the aviation industry has been not been possible due to the gelling and waxing of some of the ingredients at sub-zero temperatures. GFR’s Biojet process has solved this problem through fractination of the FAME base to remove the components responsible for low-temperature gelling. Another bonus is that the process doesn’t generate any waste as the byproducts produced generally have commercial value and can be re-used.

For the development of the process, GFR has used Camelina sativa oil feedstock, but there will be flexibility over the choice of feedstock once it goes to market. The good news is that Used Cooking Oil (UCO) has been identified as a potential source for producing commercial yields of fuel from this process.

According to research published by Air Transport Action Group, biofuels derived from biomass such as algae, jatropha and camelina have been shown to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation fuel by up to 80% over their full lifecycle

So far Biojet has been demonstrated at laboratory scale and the results are very promising. It has met, and in some cases exceeded, all the key ASTM requirements for jet fuel. It is now ready for pilot-plant scale-up, detailed characterization and commercialization. If the fuel performs as expected at this next stage, it looks like we won’t have long to wait before greener fuel for air travel becomes a reality.

This means that the aviation industry, which despite its bad environmental reputation only accounts for 2% of the world’s annual carbon emissions, can improve performance even more and cut emissions further. According to research published by Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), biofuels derived from biomass such as algae, jatropha and camelina have been shown to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation fuel by up to 80% over their full lifecycle. This means that if just 6% of commercial aviation fuel supply came from biofuels by 2020, the industry would reduce its overall carbon footprint by 5%. Meaning air travel could potentially become one of the greenest forms of transport around.

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.