Business / Industries

Aviation industry sees potential gold in 'gutter oil'

By Wang Wen (China Daily) Updated: 2014-10-24 07:23

Carriers, aircraft makers support Hangzhou project aimed at commercializing biofuel, reports Wang Wen.

Mass production of aviation biofuel is on the horizon in China, with the first demonstration facility dedicated to producing the fuel having opened on Wednesday in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Boeing Co and Commercial Aircraft Corp of China are sponsoring the China-US Aviation Biofuel Pilot Project, which aims to turn waste cooking oil into aviation biofuel.

The facility, which cost 30 million yuan ($4.9 million), will initially be used to confirm the findings of biofuel research, said Hu Zhongmin, a senior researcher at the Boeing-COMAC Aviation Energy Conservation and Emissions Reductions Technology Center. In the second phase, the facility will undertake test production.

The raw material for the project will be waste cooking oil. In China it is called gutter oil, and more than 9 million metric tons of it is discarded annually, said Zhu Cuihan, chairman of Hangzhou Energy and Engineering Technology Co Ltd, which is responsible for the technology research and development for the project.

"About 7 million tons of the waste oil has the potential to be converted into aviation biofuel," Zhu said. The company has forecast annual production of 50,000 tons, after technological improvements are made.

The fuel now used in civilian airliners is based on kerosene, one of the distillates produced by refining crude oil. But years of high oil prices have pushed airlines, aircraft manufacturers and technology suppliers to put more efforts into biofuel.

"Biofuels are nothing new, but there are several avenues being pursued," said Brian Foley, president of United States-based aviation consultancy Brian Foley Associates.

"It's encouraging that companies are exploring different avenues, in addition to algae and some other tests that have been done."

Foley said it is unclear how "economically feasible" the cooking oil-to-aviation biofuel process will be on a large scale, but that "airlines are very cost-conscious".

Boeing and COMAC established the joint technology center in Beijing in 2012 to collaborate on new technologies. Turning gutter oil into biofuel is the first project for the center.

"Market prospects are very bright, especially in China," said Wu Dongyang, Boeing's vice-president of Chinese technology and R&D.

Wu's confidence is based on the common view in the aviation industry that China will become the world's largest air traffic market.

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