Researchers, including those of Indian-origin, have developed a new method to produce ‘eco-friendly’ aviation fuel from sugarcane biomass that could lead to substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We’ve combined chemical catalysis with life-cycle greenhouse gas modelling to create a new process for producing bio-based aviation fuel as well as automotive lubricant base oils,” said Alexis Bell, a chemical engineer with joint mappointments at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California Berkeley.
“The recyclable catalysts we developed are capable of converting sugarcane biomass into a new class of aviation fuel and lubricants with superior cold-flow properties, density and viscosity that could achieve net life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 80-per cent,” Bell said.
Aviation is the source of two-per cent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
The concentrations of carbon and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are now at their highest levels in the past three million years, primarily as a result of the burning of petroleum and other fossil fuels.
Biofuels synthesised from the sugars in plant biomass help mitigate climate change. However, jet fuels have stringent requirements that must be met.
“Jet fuels must be oxygen-free, have the right boiling point distribution and lubricity, and a very low pour point, meaning the fuel can’t become gelatinous in the cold temperatures of the stratosphere,” Bell said.
“Biofuel solutions, such as farnesane, mixed directly with petroleum jet fuel have been tested, but offer only modest greenhouse gas reduction benefits. Ours is the first process to generate true drop-in aviation biofuels,” Bell said.
The new technique was developed by researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership led by th University of California Berkeley that includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the BP