It Really Does Take a Rocket Scientist to Make Jet Fuel

March 8, 2007
Since 2000, rising oil prices, concerns over running out of oil, greenhouse gas emissions, and instability in the Middle East have pushed interest in biofuels - a renewable energy source derived from recently living organisms and their metabolic byproducts.
From left Centia reactor under development, biofuels systems, jet engine, fuel produced.
Photo courtesy Diversified Energy Corp.
Then, last year fuel costs in the aviation industry exceeded labor costs, sending airlines looking for alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. However, traditional biodiesel fuel properties such as combustion and viscosity don't match the requirements for jet fuels. "Jet fuel travels at 25,000 to 35,000 feet where temperatures can reach −70° F, so it needs to flow better in colder temperatures," says a researcher.

The airlines may have their answer, thanks to researchers at North Carolina State University. They recently developed technology that turns fat into jet fuel. "We produce one-and-a-half billion gallons of animal fats annually, about half the amount of vegetable oil produced," says one researcher. Made from lipid-based feedstock or raw materials with a fat source, the process allows researchers to make almost any type of fuel. Feedstock typically costs 30% less than using corn or canola oil to make fuel. According to the researchers, they are not competing with the food supply, like ethanol-based fuels made from corn, but rather offering another alternative. The fuel created from Centia process burns cleaner and produces no soot or particulate matter. The process can also be used to make additives for cold-weather biodiesel fuels and, unlike most biodiesel processes, the Centia process uses its own byproducts. For example, the researchers found that the byproduct glycerol burns clean and provides energy for the fuel-making process.

The technology, called Centia and licensed by Diversified Energy Corp., Gilbert, AZ, is 100 percent green, using no petroleum-derived products. The Centia process has four steps - the first two are always the same with the last two changing based on the type of fuel. First, the engineers use high-temperatures and high-water pressures to strip off the free-fatty acids from the accumulated feedstock of oils and fats. Next, the fatty acids are placed in a reactor for the removal of carbon dioxide (decarbonoxylation). Depending on the type of feedstock, scientists are left with alkanes, or straight-chain hydrocarbons of either 15 or 17 carbon atoms. The last two steps consist of the breaking up the straight chains into molecules with branches, making them more compact and charging their chemical and physical characteristics.

More Information:
Diversified Energy Corp.
North Carolina State University

This web-only article appears in the Tech Insider e-newsletter. If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, sign up today for our free e-mail newsletters!

Sponsored Recommendations

How BASF turns data into savings

May 7, 2024
BASF continuously monitors the health of 63 substation assets — with Schneider’s Service Bureau and EcoStruxure™ Asset Advisor. ►Learn More: https://www.schn...

Agile design thinking: A key to operation-level digital transformation acceleration

May 7, 2024
Digital transformation, aided by agile design thinking, can reduce obstacles to change. Learn about 3 steps that can guide success.

Can new digital medium voltage circuit breakers help facilities reduce their carbon footprint?

May 7, 2024
Find out how facility managers can easily monitor energy usage to create a sustainable, decarbonized environment using digital MV circuit breakers.

The Digital Thread: End-to-End Data-Driven Manufacturing

May 1, 2024
Creating a Digital Thread by harnessing end-to-end manufacturing data is providing unprecedented opportunities to create efficiencies in the world of manufacturing.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!