Biofuel could be an alternative to fossil-based jet fuel

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A consortium of companies led by TAROM Romanian Air Transport, including Honeywell’s UOP, CCE (Camelina Company España), and Airbus, is to spearhead the commercialisation of a biofuel from a weed-like plant.

The Romanian-based project, which is being overseen by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), aims to provide a biofuel made from the camelina plant as a substitute to fossil-based jet fuel.

Honeywell’s UOP is applying its aviation biofuel refining technology, while CCE is contributing its knowledge on camelina agronomy, including technologies on camelina growth, agricultural monitoring networks and plant science. Airbus is providing technical and project management expertise and is sponsoring sustainability assessment and lifecycle analysis studies.

Camelina was chosen because of its energy potential, its rotational crop qualities, its greenhouse-gas reduction potential and its low water requirements. Camelina is also indigenous to Romania, and can be readily farmed and harvested by family farmers. It has a high-quality animal feed by-product.

Airbus will support the fuel-approval processes, and assess the effect on aircraft systems and engines. The consortium will work together with the Bucharest University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine’s Centre of Biotechnology (BIOTEHGEN) regarding the camelina plantations, harvesting and oil production.

In the US, biofuel is also showing promise for use in military aircraft. This month, an F-22 Raptor was successfully flown at supersonic speed a 50/50 fuel blend of conventional petroleum-based JP-8 and a biofuel that was also derived from camelina.

The F-22 Raptor performed several manoeuvres, including a supercruise at 40,000ft, reaching speeds of 1.5 Mach. Supercruise is supersonic flight without using the engine’s afterburner.

Camelina-derived synthetic fuel falls into a class of hydroprocessed blended biofuels known as hydrotreated renewable jet fuels, or HRJs. The HRJ fuel can be derived from a variety of plant oil and animal fat feedstocks.

In February, US Air Force officials certified the entire C-17 Globemaster III fleet for unrestricted flight operations using the HRJ biofuel blend.