If a recently-announced consortium of scientists and aviation companies is successful, you could one day be flying in jets powered by the remains of decay – otherwise known as biofuel from forest-industry waste. The project will be led by the University of British Columbia (UBC) and NORAM Engineering and Constructors, and includes aviation and related companies Boeing, Air Canada, WestJet, SkyNRG and Bombardier.
A feasibility study supported by Boeing and completed by UBC earlier this year determined that aviation biofuel made from forest-industry waste (such as branches and sawdust) via thermochemical processing could meet 10 percent – about 46 million gallons (175 million liters) – of British Columbia's annual jet fuel demand alone. The study also found that biofuel, if used in ground and marine vehicles, could save about 1 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.
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The goal of the consortium will be to take the results of that study and of lab tests that have already produced small amounts of biofuel from forest-industry waste, and determine what it will take to produce larger amounts for use at major Canadian airports and in ground transportation. Getting to that point will also require additional testing, as well as flight tests and approval for commercial use before airlines could begin using it. No timeline was given as to when further tests or commercial use would be available.
The project will be funded for an undisclosed sum by the Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN) of Canada as part of a portfolio of investments they have in technologies that reduce aviation's carbon emissions.
Boeing has a history of looking at biofuels as an alternative source to regular jet fuel. In 2012, the company flew a 787 Dreamliner across the Pacific Ocean powered by a mix of regular jet fuel and biofuel derived mainly from used cooking oil. That led to a partnership with the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) to produce the biofuel mix in a pilot plant in China.