Airlines Turn To Soybeans For Jet Fuel

Airlines Turn To Soybeans For Jet Fuel

Individuals in the U.S and farmers stand to benefit from efforts by airlines to clean up their carbon footprint by switching to sustainable aviation fuel — made primarily from soybeans.

Mac Marshall of the United Soybean Board talked with Steve Alexander about the projected needs of the airlines and how crush and processing plants are ramping up to meet the demand.

Fatty acids from soybean oil can be turned into an array of industrial products normally made from petroleum, including fuel, ink and paints.

One appeal of plant-based products is that they recycle carbon found in the atmosphere. ARS scientists say this makes plants a far more renewable resource than petroleum and other fossil fuels, which add carbon to the atmosphere as they’re processed and used.

Airlines Turn To Soybeans For Jet Fuel

Blends using biofuels are one of the ways the aviation industry is working to reduce its “carbon footprint,” or total emissions of greenhouse gases — particularly carbon dioxide — which amounted to 905 million tons in 2018.

One approach to making soy jet fuel relies on the use of a precious metal called ruthenium to catalyze reactions that chemically modify the structure and properties of the oil’s unsaturated fatty acids. The problem with this approach is that it generates too few aromatic compounds.

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To get around the problem, scientists replaced ruthenium with iridium as the chief catalyst in a six-step procedure.

In laboratory-scale experiments, use of the approach on high oleic-acid soy oil produced jet fuel formulations containing enough aromatics to be compatible with conventional jet fuels — and beyond what ruthenium-based methods can achieve.

The advancement opens the door to increased blending of bio- and conventional- jet fuels as an emissions-cutting measure. The method also generates little or no naphthalene, a jet fuel component that emits soot upon combustion.