Green Diesel and Jet Fuel

On a recent tour of NREL‘s Biomass reserch lab, I learned about a new (to me) way to make biofuel.  Plant and animal oils and fats can used in conventional petroleum refineries to make diesel and jet fuel.  This idea has actually been around since the 1990s, when it was first demonstrated on a pilot scale.

Most of my readers are probably well aware of efforts to cultivate microalgae as a source of oil for biodiesel.  This is to biodiesel production what cellulosic ethanol technology is to ethanol production: an up-and-coming technology that has the potential to increase the level of production to where it can actually provide a significant volume of fuel relative to our transportation needs (corn ethanol and biodiesel from conventional crops and waste oil both fall far short on this measure.)

Green diesel and jet fuel address two major problems for biofuels:

  1. Biofuels lack an existing distribution infrastructure (they must be moved around by train, and even if it were possible to use existing pipelines, they do not lead to where most biofuel is currently produced.)  Conventional refineries, naturally, are already integrated in the existing infrastructure.
  2. Ethanol has a lower energy density than gasoline (about 30% less), and I know of no way to convert biomass into a high enough energy density fuel to power jet aircraft.  This process produces jet fuel, neatly dealing with that problem, and holding out the hope eventually reaching a 100% transport (we’d still have to massively increase efficiency to reduce consumption to a sustainable level.)

Oil refiners are interested because bio-based oils contain little or no sulfur, and removing sulfur from diesel is an increasingly expensive process as more stringent standards go into effect.  In fact, regulation for ultra-low sulfur diesel is partly behind the recent price rise in diesel vs. conventional gasoline.  It used to always be cheaper than gas, but now it is more expensive. 


  1. […] When I wrote my post about green diesel last week, I neglected to mention one other very useful attribute of green diesel: it has a much lower pour point than biodiesel.   According to an articlein NREL’s 2005 research review, […]

  2. Mike Nunez said

    Have you heard about a startup company in Natchez, MS named
    US Sustainable Energy?

    If you haven’t, check it out.

  3. Tom said

    They are very vague about just what this technology is (although they do talk about what comes out of it.) It seems very strange to be using this stuff in the low value electricity generation market when instead of the high-value transportation market, if it is really as good as they say it is.

  4. abdulhamid said

    i need your contact phone or e-mail , about jet fuel ,

    we need 12000 m/t jet fuel for us



    royal gulf international

  5. Do you have a cite for “This idea has actually been around since the 1990s, when it was first demonstrated on a pilot scale.”

  6. Tom said

    I wrote this 2 years ago… I no longer recall where I found that info.

  7. Tom said

    Tamsen, I take that back… follow the link “Biomass Research” in the first sentence.

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