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China, US aircraft makers plan to convert cooking oil into jet fuel

By JACK FREIFELDER in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-10-23 09:43

Two aircraft manufacturers plan to convert used cooking oil in China into an alternative source of jet fuel.

On Wednesday, the Chicago-based Boeing Co and the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) opened the China-US Aviation Biofuel Pilot Project, a demonstration facility in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

A main goal of the project is to gauge the technical and economic impact of biofuels derived from waste cooking oil, also known as "gutter oil".

Gutter oil has long been a public health concern in China because of its widespread use in restaurants. Used cooking oil is often considered unsafe because of the contamination potential.

The companies will be able to clean contaminants from waste oils and convert it into jet fuel at a rate of 160 gallons (650 liters) per day, using a technology developed by Hangzhou Energy & Engineering Technology Co.

"Biofuels are nothing new today, and there are several avenues being pursued," Brian Foley, president of Brian Foley Associates, told China Daily. "It's encouraging that companies are exploring different avenues, in addition to algae and some other tests that have been done."

Foley, who runs an aviation advisory firm based in Sparta, New Jersey, said it's unclear how "economically feasible" the cooking oil-to-aviation biofuel method would be on a large scale, but that "airlines are very cost-conscious".

The companies estimate that 500 million gallons of biofuel could be produced annually from China's used cooking oil, according to a joint press release.

Ian Thomas, president of Boeing China, said "teamwork between Boeing and COMAC is helping our industry make progress on environmental challenges that no single company or country can solve alone."

The companies are finding "innovative ways to support China's aviation industry and build a sustainable future", Thomas said in a press release announcing the opening of the facility.

"We will continue to work with Boeing in energy conservation and emissions reduction areas to promote the sustainable development of the aviation industry," Wang Guangqiu, vice-president of COMAC's Beijing Aeronautical Science and Technology Research Institute said in a company statement.

Chicago-based Boeing, founded in 1916, is one of the world's leading aircraft makers. COMAC is a Chinese state-owned aerospace manufacturer located in Shanghai.

The two companies have been working together on China's commercial aviation industry since 2012, including setting up a research and development center in Beijing to increase knowledge about aviation biofuels.

"Companies like to give the perception that they're being social responsible and looking to reduce our carbon footprints,” Foley said. “One way of doing that is to look for alternative fuels so we don't have to rely only on fossil fuels. At the same time, collection and supply I'm sure will be a challenge, so they have to look at that,"he said.

Boeing's Current Market Outlook estimates that China will need more than 6,000 new airplanes by 2033 to meet fast-growing passenger demand.

Sustainably produced biofuel, which can reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared with petroleum through its life cycle, is expected to play a key role in supporting aviation's growth, Boeing said in its statement.

Jessica Kowal, a Boeing spokeswoman, told China Daily: "We view biofuels as a long-term journey. We've only been at it for a decade, and the long-term goal is really to support continued, sustainable growth in China's aviation industry."

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