Sustainable Engineering: Air Carriers Try to Make Biofuels Fly

Nov. 22, 2008
The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group first priority will be to complete thorough assessments of sustainable plant sources, harvesting and economic impacts, and processing technologies.

Edited by Leland Teschler

Plane maker Boeing and a group of air carriers are trying to accelerate the development and commercialization of new sustainable aviation fuels. The firms have formed the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group to devise sustainability practices for the airplanefuel supply chain.

Airlines supporting the sustainable fuels initiative include Air France, Air New Zealand, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Cargolux, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM, SAS, and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Collectively, they account for about 15% of commercial-jet fuel use. The group’s first priority will be to complete thorough assessments of sustainable plant sources, harvesting and economic impacts, and processing technologies.

The group has announced two initial sustainability research projects. Researchers at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies will conduct the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive sustainability assessment of jatropha curcas, a poisonous shrub whose seeds consist of 30% oil that can be processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel fuel. Similarly, the group will study algae as a fuel source to ensure it meets stringent sustainability criteria.

Also taking part in the work is UOP LLC, a Honeywell Corp. company that develops advanced fuel processing methodologies.

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