Scientists explore eucalyptus as an alternative to dense jet fuel

By Washington State University | September 29, 2017

A research team led by Hongfei Lin, associate professor from Washington State University’s Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, has developed a novel process for synthesizing dense jet fuel from mint, pine, gumweed, eucalyptus or other plants.

The research is a significant step towards making high-energy density biofuels affordable in the aviation industry.

 

Jet fuel from numerous plants

The process, known as biphasic tandem catalytic process (biTCP), synthesizes cyclic hydrocarbon compounds for jet fuel from terpenoids, the natural organic chemical compounds found in many plants. Cyclic hydrocarbons are molecular compounds with structures that can store high levels of energy. The researchers were able to create a high yield of the cyclic hydrocarbon p-menthane from eucalyptus oil.

Collaborating with the University of Nevada-Reno, the researchers’ work was recently published in the journal Green Chemistry.

 

Cost effective process

Lin’s research focus is on developing highly efficient, cost-effective, sustainable catalytic processes for synthesizing fuels and chemicals from renewable resources.

“When creating biofuels, a big challenge is keeping them cost-effective,” he said. “We are developing catalytic processes that will use special biomass materials to create a specialty fuel product that could be more price-competitive than petroleum-based fuels.”

Petroleum-based super dense jet fuels, which can make airplanes fly faster, further and with bigger payloads, are expensive to produce. For instance, Lin says, refining the molecule in JP-10 fuel, exo-tetrahydrodicyclopentadiene, from crude oil is comparable to “processing diamonds from dirt.”  Because of their structure, terpenoids are an attractive economic alternative to petroleum fuels.

Lin is currently investigating catalytic methods to synthesize super dense bio-jet fuels with colleagues from the Australian National University, who have studied ways to boost terpenoid production of eucalyptus trees.