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Scientific R&D News

Bio-jet Fuel: An Instrument of Aviation Industry in Reducing Emissions


“Human beings will eventually go from the hydrocarbon age to the carbonhydrate age. The research and development of bio-jet fuel is a strategic and forward-looking research subject.” Min Enze, an academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, said. What he said was not pointless. Recently, Technical Standard for No.1 Bio-jet Fuel of SINOPEC was approved, which symbolized that China’s bio-jet fuel product with independent intellectual property rights has obtained a permit for commercial application.


The power fuel for airplanes carrying people in future is probably from “gutter oil”, which is seemingly inconceivable, but has become true.


However, an expert said in an interview with the reporter of Chinese Science News, “Bio-jet fuel is still a long way from massive generalization and raw material supply and price are two key gateways.”


The Situation of Carbon Emission Reduction Is Grim


Seen from the global trend of carbon emission reduction, the situation of carbon emission reduction that China’s aviation industry will face in future is not very optimistic.



The European Parliament and the European Commission previously voted through a bill that incorporated international aviation industry into the European Union Emission Trade Scheme from January 1, 2012. According to conservative estimates, the total expenditure of China’s civil aviation industry in carbon emission trading in the next 9 years will reach approximately RMB 17.6 billion.


Moreover, on the Copenhagen Climate Conference, China promised that the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP would decline by 40%~45% by 2020 from the 2005 level. For this reason, the Civil Aviation Administration of China proposed a goal of “reducing the energy consumption and emissions for per unit of output by 22% by 2020 from the 2005 levels”.


“The successful research and development of bio-jet fuel technology with independent intellectual property rights indicates that we have a technological instrument to respond to EU’s aviation carbon tax policy and will lay a solid foundation for the transformation of China’s aviation industry towards a green and low-carbon industry and the beginning of bio-jet fuel industry.” Long Jun, president of SINOPEC Research Institute of Petroleum Processing (hereinafter referred to as “SINOPEC RIPP”), said in an interview with a reporter of Chinese Science News.


It’s learned that bio-jet fuel mainly uses palm oil, Jatropha curcas L. seed oil, algal oil, waste cooking oil, and animal fat as feedstock at present, because bio-jet fuel that uses renewable resources as feedstock may achieve a 55%~92% reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions throughout the entire lifecycle. 



Carbonhydrate Age


Main European and American countries have successively carried out research & development of bio-jet fuel and test flight since 2008 and have begun to apply such fuel to commercial flights since 2011. In China, SINOPEC, which has a 70% share of the domestic aviation fuel market, produced 72t bio-jet fuel in 2012 and successfully applied it to flights for the first time in Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport on April 24, 2013.


In fact, SINOPEC started the research and development of bio-jet fuel production technology early in 2009, of which the main direction was to use animal fats and vegetable oils as feedstock to generate bio-jet fuel products that meet the requirements of jet fuel. At that moment, the technology was a new research subject in China.


“Biomass resources must transform into fuel oil that completely adapts to the performances of jet engines via chemical conversion and must be directly used in combination with traditional fossil fuel in any engine with no modifications, which puts forward higher requests to technological development.” Long Jun said. He defined the bio-jet fuel technology with completely independent intellectual property rights as a successful attempt in the innovation of refining technology at molecular level.  


Zhang Zhemin, deputy director of R&D administration division of SINOPEC RIPP, said, “we will constantly upgrade No.1 bio-jet fuel technology in the future, e.g. improving the reaction selectivity, increasing the product yield, and reducing the energy consumption in production, etc., and will carry out the establishment of national standards regarding bio-jet fuel.”


The Cost of Feedstock Becomes the Bottleneck


Although bio-jet fuel has obtained a permit for commercial application, industry experts believe that bio-jet fuel is still a long way from massive generalization. In the eyes of Zhang Zhemin, the sustainability in supply of feedstock and the price of feedstock are primary gateways that the commercial application of bio-jet fuel must pass through. 


Similar to the composition of value chains of traditional petrochemical products, the cost of feedstock of bio-jet fuel accounts for 85% of the total cost; while the cost of refining process accounts for only 15% of the total cost. For example, vegetable oil refined from Jatropha curcas is one of important feedstock of bio-jet fuel, but the minimum purchase price of Jatropha curcas is RMB 8,500 per ton, which is higher than the price of aviation fuel on the market.



In comparison, using waste cooking oil as feedstock may not only transform wastes into green jet fuel, but also prevent waste cooking oil from being illegally recycled and accordingly appearing on dinning tables. This is so-called “killing two birds with one stone”. Thus, waste cooking oil is the preferred raw material to produce bio-jet fuel. 


“The recoverable waste cooking oil in China ranges from 5 million tons to 8 million tons every year. If we can make the most of the waste cooking oil, we can meet the demand of development of bio-jet fuel for feedstock in the next years to some extent.” Zhang Zhemin said.


Nevertheless, it is not easy to use gutter oil as feedstock. The distribution of gutter oil is too scattered, the acquisition channels of gutter oil are impeded, and the price of gutter oil is artificially high. At present, the market price of waste cooking oil is up to RMB 6,000~7,000 per ton.


Therefore, industry experts made the following proposal: on one hand, it is required to implement “assigned spot recovery, circulation for specific purposes, and supervisory control of sales direction”, reduce the expenses arising from intermediate links of circulation of waste cooking oil, and prohibit waste oil production enterprises from charging waste oil recovery enterprises and institutions for waste oils; on the other hand, it needs also to reduce the recovery cost of gutter oil and the production cost of bio-jet fuel by means of tax breaks and deductions and vigorously support the shape of a industry chain that uses waste oils and fats such as gutter oil as feedstock to produce bio-jet fuel.


“No.1 bio-jet fuel is just a beginning.” Long Jun, who was optimistic about the market prospect of bio-jet fuel, said, “due to the increasing demand of the market and the policy support of the state, all sectors of society are willing to participate in bio-jet fuel industry, so that the commercialization progress of bio-jet fuel will be accelerated.”


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