Renewable Aviation Fuel
Algae-based fuels are not limited to just powering cars and trucks across the country. A number of companies and researchers are also focusing on algae as a source for renewable aviation fuels – also known as biojet fuel.
Biojet fuel is made from sustainable sources such as vegetable oils, sugars, animal fats and even waste biomass, and can be used in existing jet engines without modification. Renewable aviation fuels are different from traditional jet fuel because they are not made from petroleum, yet are molecularly identical.
There are a number of processes to convert vegetable oils into jet fuel. The best-developed and proven to date is called ‘hydroprocessing’, which adds hydrogen in order to remove the oxygen from the feedstock and then further refines the remaining product to meet the specifications for biojet fuel. Leading the way with this technology is UOP, a Honeywell Company. An important advantage of biojet fuels is that they offer a lower-emission option for fueling commercial and military aircraft.
Another key advantage to biojet fuels is that they are ‘drop-in’ replacements for traditional jet fuel, meaning they chemically mimic traditional jet fuel. As a result, they are wholly compatible with the existing engines and distribution systems; no modifications are necessary, and the fuels meet the same performance criteria as traditional fuels. In addition, because these fuels can be domestically produced, they provide commercial airlines and the US military with a secure supply of energy.
Renewable aviation biofuels made from algae have already been successfully tested in both commercial and military aircraft, and they have been approved by the world’s standard body for use in commercial flights.
In January 2009, Continental Airlines made history with the first-ever test flight of a commercial jet in the US with algae-based fuel as part of its biofuel blend. Departing from Houston International Airport, a Continental Boeing 737 flew with a blend of 50 percent biofuels and 50 percent traditional jet fuel in one of its two engines, marking the beginning of a new era in sustainable jet fuels.
In June 2011, the US Navy successfully demonstrated a 50-50 blend of traditional and algae-based jet fuel, produced by Solazyme, in a MH-60S Seahawk helicopter. This event marked the first time in history that a military aircraft had flown on algae-based jet fuel.
In July 2011, ASTM International, the world’s standards body, announced it had approved airlines to fly passenger jets using derivatives of up to 50 percent biofuel made from feedstocks such as—meaning that renewable aviation biofuels were cleared for take-off.
In November, 2011, United Flight 1403 flew from Houston to Chicago, on a 40 percent blend of Solazyme’s algal jet fuel, becoming the first U.S. commercial flight powered in part by algae-based biofuel.
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