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Al Fin

Al Fin

Al Fin runs a number of very successful blogs that cover, energy, technology, news and politics.

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Creating Jet Fuel from Biomass Waste

First British Airways, and now Qantas are teaming with the Solena Group to build commercial plasma gasification and Fischer-Tropsch plants to create synthetic jet fuel from carbonaceous biomass waste.

Solena's joint venture with Qantas – which could be announced within the next fortnight – follows a tie-up with British Airways, signed in February last year, to build the world's first commercial-scale biojet fuel plant in London, creating up to 1,200 jobs.

Once operational in 2014, the London plant, costing £200m to build, will convert up to 500,000 tonnes of waste a year into 16m gallons of green jet fuel, which BA said would be enough to power 2% of its aircraft at its main base at Heathrow. The waste will come from food scraps and other household material such as grass and tree cuttings, agricultural and industrial waste. It is thought the Qantas plant, to be built in Australia, will be similar.

Solena uses technology based on the Fischer-Tropsch process, which manufactures synthetic liquid fuel using oil substitutes. Germany relied on this technology during the second world war to make fuel for its tanks and planes because it did not have access to oil supplies.

Airlines have been using synthetic fuel made in this way from coal for years, but this results in high carbon emissions.

The use of biomass – which does not produce any extra emissions – as an oil substitute has more recently been pioneered by Solena. The privately owned company says that planes can run on this green synthetic fuel, without it having to be mixed with kerosene-based jet fuel. In the UK and US, regulators allow only a maximum 50% blend, and the fuel was only recently certified for use by the UK authorities. BA is understood to be exploring the possibility of using 100% biojet fuel, once it is approved as expected.

Airlines including Virgin Atlantic have also been testing biofuels – made mostly from crops, which are converted into fuel – by blending them with kerosene-based jet fuel. But experts say these blends have to have a low level of biofuels to ensure that engine safety and performance are maintained. In February 2008, Virgin became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, but this was only 20% and through just one of the plane's four engines.

The use of conventional, crop-based biofuels is controversial. Some environmentalists are concerned that an increase in the farming of crops and trees for biofuels could take up too much agricultural land and hit food production. But Solena plans to make its biojet fuel using waste, not crops.

Industry experts say that, in the future, biojet fuel will work out cheaper than kerosene-based fuel as oil prices rise. Producers such as Solena could also earn subsidies by using waste materials that may otherwise have to be sent to landfill. The Germany airline Lufthansa is also understood to be interested in a joint venture with Solena. But with each plant costing £200m to build, it will take time to roll out the technology.

One challenge faced by Solena is securing a supply of biomass waste for its new plants. Ideally, facilities will be located in or near cities, where most of the waste will be sourced, and near airlines' bases. The bioenergy producer will face competition from other companies planning to build incinerators, which also need to use waste to generate subsidised electricity. _Guardian

Of course the supply of biomass waste will present a problem for the world's airlines, if they intend to fly on cellulosic fuels from waste. Naturally, they will eventually have to look to biomass farms -- whether seawater aquatic farms of seaweed, forestry farms of fast-growing woody crops, or designed high-yield grasses such as Giant King Grass.

The idea of maintaining a high volume fuel industry on waste scraps is laughable. But the climate of carbon hysteria will drive corporate PR departments to ridiculous lengths in order to paint their companies green.

Much better to move quickly beyond cosmetic efforts and to get serious about advanced cellulosic fuels. If Qantas, British Airlines, Virgin, etc. want to use biomass jet fuel, they need to spend money to solve the energy density problem of biomass fuels. It is a solvable problem. But instead they add fuel to the idiotic "foods vs. fuels" non-debate.

By. Al Fin


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  • Richard Rodriguez on January 18 2012 said:
    More productive then all other biomass feedstocks. Compared to switchgrass and micanthus Gianit King Grass can be harvested the first year of planting and twice annually. Micanthus & switchgrass require 2-3 years of maturity and only harvestable once annually. I believe GKG has the edge.

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