Boeing Begins New Biofuel Project Using Cooking Oil

Source: Thinkstock

Boeing and Chinese airplane manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp. (COMAC) are working together on a biofuel project that would turn China’s rivers of used cooking fat, known as “gutter oil,” into nearly 2 billion liters of jet fuel per year.

Reusing cooking oil is nothing new. Oil, after all, is combustible, whether it’s made from vegetables or long-dead animal life, and environmental news is full of stories about tinkers who buy a few gallons of used oil from a fast-food joint to fuel their refitted jalopies.

In this case, though, Boeing and COMAC have set up a plant in Hangzhou, southeastern China, capable of converting about 63,000 gallons of gutter oil into 1.8 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, according to an October 22 statement by Boeing.

The plant will use a process developed by Hangzhou Energy & Engineering Technology Co. to clean the waste oil and convert it into jet fuel at a rate of 160 gallons per day. To promote the effort, the two airplane manufacturers have opened a demonstration facility in Hangzhou called the China-U.S. Aviation Biofuel Pilot Project.

On a scientific level, the project aims “to assess the technical feasibility and cost of producing higher volumes of biofuel,” the Boeing statement said. On an environmental level, it quoted Ian Thomas, president of Boeing China, as saying the joint project reflects “progress on environmental challenges that no single company or country can solve alone.”

An article by the state-owned Chinese news service Xinhua, published October 22 in the English-language edition of the newspaper People’s Daily, says biofuel is not only sustainable, but when ignited, emits between 50% and 80% less carbon than fossil fuels. As a result, it argued, converted gutter oil can help China meet its environmental goals while helping to grow its aviation industry.

The Boeing-COMAC venture has been months in the making. In February, China’s Civil Aviation Administration awarded a license for converting gutter oil to jet fuel to a subsidiary of China’s huge, state-owned Sinopec Corp.

China has a population of around 1.3 billion people, and most traditional Chinese cooking requires oil. China has a problem disposing of so much used oil, which has led to public health issues. Used oil often contains toxins and is widely considered unsanitary.

Chinese media have reported that criminal gangs were gathering used cooking oil from drains and even sewers, then rebottling it and selling it as fresh oil, leading to widespread illness. The government has cracked down on the practice, tried those accused of taking part and, upon conviction, sentenced them to stiff prison terms.

In 2013, one defendant drew a life sentence for making and selling gutter oil.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on the topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.