bio fuel - kerosene - aircraft tank

Biofuels. 6 Questions.

Esther Nestle
13.04.2020
5 minutes

The year 2019 has what it takes to go down in the annals as the year of the climate outcry. More loudly than ever before, critics have pilloried and continue to pillory air traffic for its environmental impact. WingMag, too, has repeatedly raised issues relating to flying and the environment in the past year. Complex, the whole thing. Very complex! Today we continue with a material that flying dreams are made of:

Organic kerosene

Unfortunately also the substance that adds the climate-damaging CO2 to our air, that sootens our air, that threatens to undermine our ecosystem. The substance, which is also available in an organic version.

Wishful thinking: Fill the bolides of the air with biological “motor vehicles” and everything will be climate-friendly …

What’s organic fuel?

Biofuel (*) is obtained from organic material.

The basis for the fuel production is on the one hand vegetable oils: rape oil, palm oil, Jatropha oil (spurge), algae oil. By means of hydrogenation – i.e. enrichment with hydrogen – aviation biofuel is obtained from the oils. For example, we have already reported on biofuel made from the oil of a saltwater plant.

Biofuels from saltwater plantations

On the other hand, plant waste such as straw, corn stalks or sawdust. Fuel production requires additional intermediate steps here: The cellulose is dissolved out of the plant residues and a few chemical process steps later receive the desired upgrade, to a ring-shaped = ready to use hydrocarbon mixture.

Other possible biofuel sources are renewable energies and animal fats. More details on the production of biokerosene can be found in our article on alternative fuels.

(*) Synonymous names: ecokerosene, biokerosene, biofuel, eco fuel, alternative fuel etc.

Advantages of bio-kerosene compared to conventional kerosene?

Conventional kerosene is obtained from fossil fuel. Widely discussed problem: Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas destroy climate and environment:

Nobody drills into the earth to produce biokerosene. The fuel obtained from vegetable oil and plant waste thus only releases the amount of CO2 that the plants have previously absorbed from the atmosphere through their growth. So it’s a CO2 zero-sum game. Vision and mission: CO2-neutral flying.

It is unclear how much biokerosene powered aircraft influence cloud formation. Presumably, the contrail effect would be noticeably reduced because far fewer (harmful) substances would be blown into the air.

Importance of biofuel for aviation?

Biokerosene is very importance as aviation will continue to depend on liquid fuels for many years and decades to come. This is different on the road and on the water – alternatives such as electric mobility and gaseous fuels are much easier to use than in the air. Aviation needs bio-based aviation fuels, at least in the medium term.

kerosene - bio fuel - bio kerosene - eco fuel - alternative fuel

Biokerosene problems?

Profitability. The production of bio-kerosene is expensive. The price is two to three times higher than conventional kerosene. No airline can compete with that.

Environment and ethics. Biofuel is great, but it also means:

Technical answers to unsolved biofuel problems?

Scientists are researching many approaches. One promising approach comes from China, where scientists are on the trail of a new synthetic route. They are able to produce biokerosene from cellulose with an unprecedented energy density – even higher than conventional kerosene! Highly exciting approach also in terms of economic efficiency, because: The higher the kerosene density, the lower the prices.

The toxic solvent dichloromethane is currently spewing into the bio-soup. Unfortunately, without this stuff they cannot yet brew their high-performance fuel.

Biokerosene in practice?

1. Drop-in:

Some airlines add biokerosene as drop-in fuel to conventional kerosene. But price, competitive and dumping pressures are high. Airlines’ biokerosene reports are correspondingly not encouraging.

2. Business jets and SAJF in Europe:

Here the trend is moving more and more towards biofuel. At the last EBACE business jet fair in Geneva, 23 aircraft fuelled with alternative fuels flew to the exhibition site. Previously, the pilots had to fly to third-party airports to get the precious fuel. “Sustainable alternative jet fuels” (SAJF) is the magic word.

SAJF is on a par with normal fuel in all respects and is a Jet-A fuel in every respect.

Pete Bunce, President of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA)

Business aviation is responsible for only a tiny part of aero– CO2 emissions. And yet it is a start.

Cover photo © Picabay Cegoh 352722

by Esther Nestle

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