Turning Farm Waste Into Jet Fuel Of Tomorrow

Technical University of Denmark

For some the distinct odour of jet fuel evokes happy memories of exciting journeys to exotic holiday destinations. For others it's more like a bad smell that reminds them of the environmental impact of flying, which is indeed not trivial.

Almost all the jet fuel used by commercial airlines worldwide today is made with crude oil, which is rich in cyclic hydrocarbons making it very energy dense and therefore suitable for aviation. But because it is a fossil fuel, burning it emits CO2 and adds to our emissions woes: Currently flying accounts for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions.

To help end our reliance on non-renewable fuels when taking to the skies, researchers at DTU are taking different approaches for producing alternatives that are more environmentally friendly and financially viable. Senior Researcher Pablo Cruz-Morales explains:

"You want something that can store a lot of energy in the smallest space possible and cyclic hydrocarbons are best for that. They have a bad reputation because for now they mostly come from oil. But we can make them from sustainable sources such as CO2 that is captured from the environment, acetate from power-to-X or agricultural waste."

Nature's recipe

Essentially Pablo Cruz-Morales and his colleagues have set about copying Nature's way of storing energy as hydrocarbon rings (see box).

"Because the best chemist in the universe is Nature," he exclaims and explains that using an approach called genome mining, his team have searched though Nature's catalogue of chemistry to identify organisms that are able to produce hydrocarbon rings naturally.

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