Plant scraps key component in making cheap, sustainable jet fuel

Washington: Researchers in China have found a way to convert plant waste from agriculture and timber into high-density aviation fuel.

The research was published in the journal of Joule. The researchers found that this type of jet fuel would help in reducing Carbon Dioxide discharge from airplanes and rockets.

Cellulose is the main component in the biofuel. It is a cheap, renewable, and highly abundant polymer that forms the cell walls of plants. While chain alkanes (such as branched octane,

dodecane, and hexadecane) have previously been derived from cellulose for use in jet fuel, the researchers believe this is the first study to produce more complex polycycloalkane compounds that can be used as high-density aviation fuel.

“Our biofuel is important for mitigating CO2 emissions because it is derived from biomass and it has higher density compared with conventional aviation fuels. As we know, the utilization of high-density aviation fuel can significantly increase the range and payload of aircraft without changing the volume of oil in the tank,” said the lead author, Ning Li.

To produce this biofuel the researchers found that cellulose can be selectively converted into hexanedione. They then developed a method of separating the compound. Much of the biofuel’s magic lies in this high density; it can be used as either a wholesale replacement fuel or as an additive to improve the efficiency of other jet fuels.

“The aircrafts using this fuel can fly farther and carry more than those using conventional jet fuel, which can decrease the flight number and decrease the CO2 emissions during the taking off or launching and landing,” said Li.

Although the researchers produced the biofuel at a laboratory scale in this study, they believe that the process’ cheap, abundant cellulose feedstock, fewer production steps, and lower energy cost and consumption mean it will soon be ready for commercial use. They also predict it will yield higher profits than conventional aviation fuel production because it requires lower costs to produce a higher-density fuel. The biggest issue holding the process back is its use of dichloromethane to break down cellulose into 2,5-hexanedione; the compound is traditionally used as a solvent in paint removers and is considered an environmental and health hazard.

The researchers believe that this is the breakthrough that will be instrumental in helping the aviation industry go green.