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Aviation heads for booze-fuelled future. Cheers!

November 28, 2011


I'm told that alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuels will be the next big thing in the quest for alternatives to kerosene for the airline industry.

I had a really interesting chat last week with Kevin Weiss, chief executive of California-basedByogy Renewables, who claims to have developed the world's first 100% synthetic replacement for jet kerosene.

Look out for a forecast piece on this in the upcoming festive issue of Flight International (20 December) and a more detailed feature in the magazine's next Environment Special Report in February.

But as a sneak preview, apparently ATJ fuels will be the hot topic over the coming months and are set to become the next alternative aviation fuels to be approved for commercial use by certifying body ASTM International. I'm told this is expected to happen either by the end of 2013 or the middle of 2014.

The people I've spoken to so far on this - and there's a long list of people I've yet to interview - point to the fact that ATJ fuels are much easier to scale up to commercially viable levels because sugar - one of the main feedstocks - is so abundant.

Hopefully this doesn't mean that vast areas of rainforest will be razed to the ground to make way for sugar cane plantations.

Another advantage, I'm told, is that fuels derived from ethanol do not need to be blended with kerosene like other certified alternative aviation fuels because they already contain aromatics.

If you didn't already see the Virgin Atlantic/LanzaTech story when it came out, have a read of this for a glimpse into the future. It sounds too good to be true - capturing by-product gases from steel mills that would otherwise have been emitted into the atmosphere, which is then compressed into ethanol before being converted into synthetic jet fuel by Swedish Biofuels.

So it appears that alcohol could be put to better use than fuelling the UK's well-publicised binge-drinking culture. I'll be following developments with interest.

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