Vegetable oils to power planes

An EU-funded project is accelerating widespread use of renewable aviation fuels in Europe. Exciting new players are appearing on the biofuel scene such as camelina oils.

The aviation industry pledges to achieve carbon-neutral growth by 2020. Use of sustainable aviation biofuels is a key strategy to reach this goal. Although a number of small-scale biofuel value chains exist, they do not currently have the necessary critical mass to push the technological and logistics boundaries to commercial-scale limits.

Putting sustainable fuel use on the horizon is the aim of the EU-funded project 'Initiative towards sustainable kerosene for aviation' (ITAKA). The project is aims at supporting the development of aviation biofuels in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner, improving the readiness of existing technology and infrastructures.

Project members will produce enough volume of sustainable biojet fuel to allow testing in existing logistics systems and in normal flight operations in the EU. As the first-of-its-kind project in the EU, ITAKA is linking supply and demand by establishing commercial relationships among feedstock growers, biofuel producers, distributors and end users.

ITAKA targets camelina oil as the best sustainable feedstock that can be timely produced at enough quantity within Europe to produce biojet fuel. The oil is converted into drop-in — namely, no modifications to the aircraft for fuel use — aviation fuel through the hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) pathway. Used cooking oil is also being assessed for its use as biojet fuel feedstock.

So far, scientists have sought to improve key aspects of camelina cultivation, including economic, social and environmental sustainability issues such as productivity and land use. With respect to the conversion technology, ITAKA selected thermal catalytic cracking as the pathway to upgrade used oils. A new pilot unit is being developed for this purpose. Preparations have also been made to determine to what extent (re)certification of the biojet fuel could be adjusted to make the downstream distribution process more cost-effective.

ITAKA will also pioneer the distribution of biofuels through the normal logistic channels in European airports, thus bringing economic viability of biojet a step closer to reality. The project is also supporting the goal of the European Advanced Biofuels Flight Path of producing two million tonnes of renewable fuel for airline use by 2020.

last modification: 2015-05-18

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