Colleague Jane Nethercote has linked in Crikey blog Rooted to an assessment of jet biofuels in Wired’s ‘Autopia’ blog.

It’s a good read, but quotes Jeff Gazzard of a UK based aviation action group who seems to be rooted in the past.

His comments were loosing relevancy even a year ago. Since then the shameless pursuit of biofuels that will make their proponents as rich as the oil producers they hope to hope to force out of business has given up on anything that will displace a single coconut palm tree or field of corn.

This was not an act of altruism by the air transport sector afraid of the consequences of a global famine caused by turning farmlands over to the pursuit of methanol or similar fuels. It was a consequence of clearly understanding that methanol, and coconut oil, and related alternatives, are useless in a jet engine. It will take Canberra and the state governments years, rather than months, to acknowledge that this is also true of methanol petroleum blends in cars, which emit around 20 times as much in greenhouse gases as turbine powered aircraft.

The emphasis in now firmly on synthetic kerosene, and which particular pathway to its production will make it available at prices that will oust fossil fuel based kerosene, the price of which will inevitably climb again as the tug of war between the limitations of peak oil supply and the demand driven by China and India and other emerging economies comes back into play.

Gazzard has verballed the biofuel projects because they are unambiguously on the record as being stepping stones to an acceptable non fossilized carbon releasing fuel not an end in themselves.

Jatropha, which has been discussed already on this blog, is seen as capable of replacing half the current use of refined kerosene in a jatropha/kerosene blend within as little as 12 years, in those parts of the world where it can be efficiently grown using existing strains of the weed. The reason for ‘only’ half replacing the refined kerosene is that pure jatropha fuels, like those made from other high energy biofuel candidates, do not replicate the level of aromatics found in jet fuel today, and that would prevent them working as efficiently as required in all current and pending jet engines.

Thus jatropha can become an important fossil-carbon-free blend in the medium term, but not a complete replacement. It would significantly reduce the impact of an ETS on airlines that burn it.

Unexpectedly fast progress is being made in developing algae grown octanes. They were predicted only a year ago as taking until 2040 or 2050 to become perfected in a form and scale that could totally replace fossil carbon releasing fuels in jets, and more importantly, shipping, trucks and cars. The horizon for algae derived octanes seems to be drawer somewhat closer, with one form of algael fuel being part of a biofuel blend about to be flown in a Continental Airlines 737.

If there is a pipe dream about algae based fuels at present, it is about growing or refining them using processes that would also scavenge the industrial overload of fossil sourced carbon from the environment.

May such wild dreamings come true.

An important feature of current biofuel programs is that they are dependent for funds on risk takers who would be rewarded by their consequences for air transport. The fastest way to stop the development of non-fossillised-carbon emitting fuels would be to shut down or drastically curb air transport activity. No activity, no funds. Technological innovation could then be replaced by restrictive social engineering, and air travel limited to the elite decision makers.

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