Have you had Chinese food lately? The oil used to stir fry your vegetables or fry your wanton will someday lift a jumbo jet or a Dreamliner if Boeing had its way. But they couldn’t wait for you to order all that takeout and instead went were literally billions of people eat Chinese food. Where else but in China?
The Seattle-based aircraft maker plans to turn more than 500 million gallons (1.8 billion liters) of waste cooking oil, also known as “gutter oil” in China, into jet fuel. Boeing, together with the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC), unveiled the demonstration facility called the China-U.S. Aviation Biofuel Pilot Project in Hangzhou, China last week.
One of the sticky points in using gutter oil is the issue of contaminants. The facility will use technology developed by by Hangzhou Energy & Engineering Technology Co., Ltd. (HEET) that will remove the contaminants and convert the cleaned oil into aviation fuel at a rate of 170 gallons (650 liters) per day. The biofuel will comply with international specifications for biofuel derived from plant oils and animal fats. Biologically-derived jet fuel has already been used on more than 1,600 commercial flights says Boeing. Unfortunately, it will take the facility around three weeks to produce enough fuel to fill the fuel tank of a Dreamliner, so it will most likely be blended with regular jet fuel.
If tests play out as expected, it will be a big boost for the environment. Biofuels reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent when compared to petroleum derived fuels. Since the oil feedstock for this project comes from waste cooking oil, the carbon impact might even be better if one considers the methane emissions from rotting gutter oil. It would definitely help the aviation industry meet environmental goals, especially in China. Boeing estimates that the country will need 6,000 new airplanes by 2033 that will all need aviation fuel.
The aviation giant has long been researching the use of biofuels for commercial jetliners, as we have covered here at The Green Optimistic. Back in 2011, a biofuel blend was used in a flight demonstration by a Jumbo Jet at the Paris Airshow. This was followed by a commercial flight from Mexico City to Madrid using biofuel derived from Jatropha Curcas. It even delivered a 787 Dreamliner to All Nippon Airways (ANA) back in 2012 using biofuels on a transpacific flight. Earlier this year, the company introduced jet biofuel costing $3/gallon which isn’t so bad considering that Jet A goes for around $4.75 to $8 per gallon at LAX as of presstime.
Hopefully the project won’t end up as a white elephant but will instead propel planes way bigger than Dumbo across the sky.