Could an oilseed plant be the future of greener aviation fuel?


By AGENCY
  • Living
  • Friday, 01 Dec 2023

Camelina is an oilseed plant that could prove promising for the manufacture of aviation biofuels. — AFP

AN OILSEED plant called camelina could prove promising for the manufacture of aircraft biofuels. This yellow-flowered plant has a number of ecological advantages that can be easily exploited on an industrial scale. Has the aviation industry found its new canola?

To reduce the (gargantuan) carbon footprint associated with aviation fuels, scientists are innovating and turning to plants.

In 2021, American scientists reported working on a biofuel based on the oilseed plant Brassica carinata, used to produce mustard. More recently, French researchers have been looking at camelina, a yellow-flowered oilseed plant native to Central Asia and Northern Europe, whose oil is rich in omega-3s.

The idea of using it to fuel aircraft engines, replacing petroleum-based kerosene, is the aim of an experiment being piloted by the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) and the Avril agri-food group, which began at the end of Aug 2023 on land farmed by Fabrice Moulard in the region of Normandy.

Drought-resistant and able to be grown in around 100 days, camelina has the triple advantage of requiring very few chemical inputs, of not competing with traditional crops (since it grows relatively quickly) and of promoting carbon storage in soil.

The seven hectares planted by Fabrice Moulard last spring were harvested in early October by the Avril group. The oil was extracted from the camelina plants’ seeds, while the protein-containing parts of the flower (meal) was kept to feed livestock.

By 2030, the Avril group (which specialises in the production of vegetable oils and proteins) hopes to harvest 100,000 tonnes of alternative oils, including camelina.

In June, the French government presented a “green plan” to decarbonise the aeronautical sector, providing for a budget of €300mil (RM1.5bil) per year between 2024 and 2030, as well as a €200mil (RM1bil) package dedicated to the production of biofuels.

This decision is in line with European legislation passed in July 2022 envisaging the gradual introduction of the obligation to use fuels derived from non-fossil sources to power aircraft engines.

This measure includes the use of biofuels, but also those produced from waste (used cooking oil, wood residues, etc.) or “green” hydrogen. The aim is for 70% of jet fuel to be sustainable by 2050. – AFP Relaxnews

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