Sustainable, green aviation and the pursuit of fuel alternatives

green-earth-businessmanSustainability in the aviation industry is a topic that has recently come up on IPWatchdog. We found that both biofuels and electric aircraft are being developed to try and solve some of the problems caused by a growing need to solve both energy security and environmental risks faced in America and abroad. There have been some steps taken forward by the aviation industry in these respects, but there is still room for improvement in reducing high levels of toxic airborne particulate and stemming the tide of the thousands of deaths attributable every year to complications caused by plane exhaust.

Today, we wanted to recognize a collection of innovators who are making strides forward in the race to develop cleaner jet fuels and greener modes of transportation. In the coming years, many of our readers may be airborne on planes operating on no fossil fuel whatsoever, or if they do, it’s likely produced from a biomass feedstock that does not require dipping into the world’s oil reserves.

Green aviation innovation is alive both at major industry players as well as smaller firms that have moved into this sector of research and development.


Green Aviation Patents: Synthetic and Soybean Biofuels for Jets

In our recent search on the topic of green aviation innovations we located patents related to synthetic biofuels developed for use with jets and other aircraft. In our piece covering environmentally friendly changes to the aviation industry, we noted the Fischer-Tropsch process used to create synthetic gas. Improvements to this process are outlined within U.S. Patent No. 8889746, entitled Enhancement of Fischer-Tropsch Process for Hydrocarbon Fuel Formulation in a GTL Environment. This patent, issued to Expander Energy of Calgary, Canada, protects a process for synthesizing hydrocarbons by formulating a hydrogen-rich stream with a syngas generator, catalytically converting the stream to produce naphtha hydrocarbons, recycling at least some naphtha to the syngas generator to form an enhanced hydrogen-rich stream and recirculating the hydrogen-rich stream to enhance the synthesis of hydrocarbons. This enhanced Fischer-Tropsch process results in a substantial increase to the hydrocarbon yield, producing even more effective biofuel.

Jet fuels derived from soybean oil are at the center of U.S. Patent No. 8933285, entitled Methods of Producing Jet Fuel from Natural Oil Feedstocks Through Metathesis Reactions and issued to Elevance Renewable Sciences, Inc. of Woodridge, IL. The method for producing a jet fuel composition disclosed here involves providing a feedstock comprising natural oil glycerides or their derivatives, reacting the feedstock with a low-weight olefin in the presence of a metathesis catalyst to create a metathesized glyceride product and hydrogenating the metathesized glyceride product to create a composition suitable for use as jet fuel. This naturally-sourced oil is intended to reduce the levels of hybrid crude oilsgreenhouse gases which are created by jets when their engines combust petroleum-based fuel reserves.

Cleaner crude jet fuels are also the focal point of U.S. Patent No. 8951407, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Making Hybrid Crude Oils and Fuels. Issued to Clean Global Energy, Inc. of Lewiston, ID, it claims a method for breaking large-chain hydrocarbon molecules found in crude oil into smaller chain hydrocarbon molecules by combining gases with a crude oil feedstock in a heated and pressurized environment to create numerous high-energy collisions of gas molecules with liquid hydrocarbon molecules. The technique also involves the removal of contaminants and impurities from the produced hybrid crude oil. This simplified process of producing hybrid crude oil is designed to improve the cost-effectiveness of using this form of alternative fuel over crude oil.



Patent Applications of Note: Cryogenic Fuels, Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Biofuels

cryogenic fuelFuels derived from biomass are not the only option being pursued to solve the problem of switching away from petroleum-based fossil fuels, or at least getting more mileage from those fuels. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140339367, titled Efficient Low Carbon Emission Airplane Integrating Jet Fuel and Cryogenic Fuel Systems, would protect a hybrid fuel airplane having at least one cryogenic fuel tank conforming to the airplane body’s outer mold line as well as a jet fuel tank located in the airplane’s wing. This configuration, developed by the Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) of Chicago, IL, would introduce the use of cryogenic fuels, which are fuels that require storage at extremely low temperatures in order to remain in a liquid state. Cryogenic fuels could be attractive for the airline industry because they create low emission levels and possess a high energy density per mass unit of fuel. One challenge, however, is that cryogenic fuels require large volume tanks because they have a low volumetric energy density per liter.  It is because of these benefits and challenges that Boeing is pursuing alternative airplane designs to accommodate for the use of cryogenic fuels.

The use of hydrogen fuel cells in aircraft has been conceived as we can tell from the language of U.S. Patent Application No. 20150217869, titled Removable Storage for Hydrogen On-Board Passenger Transport Vehicles Such as Aircraft. This patent application, filed by Zodiac Aerotechnics of Plaisir, France, would protect a hydrogen storage solution for use on-board an aircraft which has hydrogen storage features configured to be removable from the aircraft as well as a connection figure allowing for the delivery of hydrogen to systems on-board the aircraft. The removable features of this innovation improves the effectiveness of refueling hydrogen tanks to provide at least some auxiliary electric power to an aircraft.

Research and development into biofuels is chugging along as well as we can see in U.S. Patent Application No. 20150090632, entitled Method for Jet Fuel Composition, and Jet Fuel Composition. Filed by JX Nippon and Energy Corporation of Tokyo, Japan, it discloses a method for producing a jet fuel composition which includes a step in which a Fischer-Tropsch synthesis jet fuel blendstock with a petroleum-based jet fuel blendstock in such a way that the Fischer-Tropsch blendstock comprises from 20 percent to 80 percent of the resulting mixture. This new technique overcomes shortcomings of conventional methods of blending petroleum and Fischer-Tropsch fuels to increase the overall yield of fuel. A fuel derived completely from biological materials other than petroleum is at the center of U.S. Patent Application No. 20150210931, titled System and Method for the Production of Jet lipid-containing feedstocksFuel, Diesel, and Gasoline from Lipid-Containing Feedstocks. Filed by Cool Planet Energy Systems, Inc., of Camarillo, CA, it claims a method for the production of jet fuel from lipid-rich biomass by pyrolyzing lipid-rich biomass, such as seeds, algae or cellulose material, in the presence of water to create both biovapor and biochar, catalytically converting the biovapor into a biofuel comprised of at least 15 percent paraffin by weight and collecting the biofuel as a liquid. This technique improves upon previous methods which used pyrolysis, a process of rapidly heating biomass to produce a biofuel which could produce an unstable fuel which contains reactive oxygenated species.

An intriguing fuel additive which works to reduce the levels of carbon emitted by an airplane is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20150184100, titled Mesitylene as an Octane Enhancer for Automotive Gasoline, Additive for Jet Fuel, and Method of Enhancing Motor Fuel Octane and Lowering Jet Fuel Carbon Emissions. Filed by Swift Fuels, LLC, of West Lafayette, IN, it simply claims a motor fuel comprised mostly of gasoline as well as mesitylene in a concentration ranging from 1 percent by weight to 30 percent by weight of the fuel mixture. This patent reflects the unexpected discovery that mesitylene, which can be produced from sources other than corn, would meet low carbon emission standards when replacing ethanol in gasoline blends; it also, as the patent’s title suggests, has applications with jet fuels.


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