Oil and aircraft fuel from plants

See also Algae

Vegetable oil

Although aeroplanes can fly with batteries, the mass of the battery leaves little room for payload. The only other fuels are hydrogen or oil. Hydrogen is difficult to store, so for the foreseeable future, planes are going to need oil.


The vegetable oil produced from Jatropha  and camelina are being trialed by airlines and the results are positive so far.  Both are being used as diesel and jet fuels.

However, compared to other oil crops Jathropa has a lower yield and is illegal to plant in Australia because it is rated as a noxious weed. It also has known carcinogenic effects on humans.  It also has a wide flowering window and mechanical harvesting will generally result in significant losses in yield (up to 50%).

Airline test results of Jatropha and Camelina

Introduction to biofuels for jet engines - (ATAG biofuels guide)

BP walks away from Jatropha 2007

Pongamia / Millettia

However the future bio jet fuel future may be dominated by Pongamia/Millettia Pinata.

Pongamia / Millettia represents the best all round sustainable solution for broadacre renewable energy cropping. Because Pongamia is a legume, it produces its own Nitrogen and requires little to no fertilizer.  Fertilizers used with competing crops are generally produced from fossil fuels, which can defeat the purpose of using biofuel. It can grow in saline soil similar to a saltbush.

Milletta also has very deep tap roots so is drought resistant and puts carbon into the soil.

Millettia Factsheet

Case study of pongamia in an Indian village

Diesel tree

The Diesel Tree from South America looks good on the table on the right, but it cannot currently be mechanically harvested and the oil degrades within 1-2 months, making it unuseable as a broadacre solution. Further, it is 14 years before first economic harvest, and requires4000-6000mm of rainfall to achieve good yields. Ref..

Aeroplanes need a lightweight fuel

Table of vegetable oil from various plants From The Global Petroleum ClubWikipedia


kg oil /ha/yr litres oil/ha lbs oil/acre US gal/acre
soybean 375 446 335 48
mustard seed 481 572 430 61
camelina 490 583 438 62
sesame 585 696 522 74
safflower 655 779 585 83
tung tree 790 940 705 100
sunflowers 800 952 714 102
cacao (cocoa) 863 1,026 771 110
peanut 890 1,059 795 113
opium poppy 978 1,163 873 124
rapeseed 1,000 1,190 893 127
olives 1,019 1,212 910 129
castor beans 1,188 1,413 1,061 151
jojoba 1,528 1,818 1,365 194
jatropha 1,590 1,892 1,420 202
macadamia nuts 1,887 2,246 1,685 240
brazil nuts 2,010 2,392 1,795 255
avocado 2,217 2,638 1,980 282
coconut 2,260 2,689 2,018 287
chinese tallow 3,950 4,700 3,500 500
Tobacco (modified) 5,000 6,000    
oil palm 5,000 5,950 4,465 635
Diesel tree 10,000 12,000   1,283
Pongamia/Millettiapinnata 3-10,000     1,280
algae (open pond) 80,000 95,000 70,000 10,000

Solaris - Energy tobacco

Italian company Sunchem has developed an energy tobacco called Solaris. The strain was developed to push the bulk of the plant’s oils into seed production rather than leaves. It is being trialled in the Limpopo region of South Africa where 3 crops a year is possible.

It produces seed with 40% oil, by cold press we could have 33-34% of raw oil and 65% of protein cake. This is useful as animal feed. The remainder can be fermented to produce methane, CH4.

Chinese Tallow


  • Rapid Growth Rate
  • Ability to Re-Sprout
  • Drought Tolerance
  • Salt tolerance
  • High Oil Yield for a Given Plot of Land


  • Tallow is toxic to humans and wildlife
  • Tallow leaves and fruit are toxic to cattle
  • Tallow produces tannins that can alter soil chemistry
  • Tallow can limit the establishment of native plant seedlings.
  • Tallow poses a significant threat to the biological diversity
  • High weed risk


Major Fatty Acid Composition of  Chinese Tallow oil

Lauric acid   0-2.5%
Myristic acid   0.5-3.7%
Palmitic acid    58-72%
Stearic acid  1.2-7.6%
Oleic acid   20-35%
Linoleic acid   0-1.6%


Do it yourself biodiesel 

"Trying to substitute 10 per cent of fossil fuels with solid and liquid bioenergy would consume 20 percent of the world's current harvest of all plants and trees, illustrating the need for limits on bioenergy.

That's because the calorific value of fossil fuel consumption is double that of the world's entire harvest of biomass for food, clothing, energy and wood products, show data from European Environment Agency (EEA) experts.

The EU has a target to get a fifth of all energy from renewable sources by 2020, and up to 10 percent of road transport fuel from biofuels." More: Climate spectator


Superc​ritical water gasification

Supercritical water can be used to decompose biomass via supercritical water gasification of biomass. This type of biomass gasification can be used to produce hydrocarbon fuels for use in an efficient combustion device or to produce hydrogen for use in a fuel cell. In the latter case, hydrogen yield can be much higher than the hydrogen content of the biomass due to steam reforming where water is a hydrogen-providing participant in the overall reaction. Wikipedia

Licella - Biomass to crude oil

Licella are using supercrtical water to convert any form of biomass to a stable Bio-Crude oil. The process breaks down the ether linkages in the polymeric structure of biomass.

Under elevated heat and pressure, water approaches a fourth state of matter called the supercritical state. When water approaches this state it exhibits both acidic and basic properties, and diffusion properties similar to gases.

Their pilot plant is using Pinus Radiata as feed stock, but theoretically, any ligno-cellulosic biomass can be used.



Oil from wood - Wheeler process

The Wheeler process, has two stages:
Add sulfuric acid to wood. This is a very old pretreatment process that dissolves/breaks down lignin making cellulose available.
Heat the pulp with calcium hydroxide at 450 degrees Celsius, to remove oxygen.
This produces a hydrocarbon mixture similar to crude oil.
Distillation produces a petrol fraction with an octane of 80.
The acid and calcium hydroxide are recovered. 



Thermal depolymerisation

Yet another exciting idea is to imitate the process nature uses to make oil reserves.

If you take any organic waste, medical waste, tyres, plastic, or sewage sludge, and put it in hot water under pressure for the right time, it will convert to oil, gas and char. The claim is that only 15% of the waste's energy goes into powering the process.

In Missouri 200 tonnes of turkey waste from a food factory is converted to 20 tonnes of oil every day.  

Changing World Technologies claim to convert turkey waste costs $0.30 /KG, and tyres cost $0.20/KG of oil produced.


Ref 1

Changing World Technologies process



Understanding the TCP Process

M​icrobial oleaginous microorganisms

ProBio3 is a French project to convert lignocellulose to oils suitable for jet fuel.

Details are vague.

"Lignocellulose is broken down into sugars through enzymes, then mixed with microorganisms such as yeast, and transformed into lipids through the chemical process of fermentation."

"The fats obtained are then treated with hydrogen to make a type of hydrocarbon with similar properties to fossil fuels."

"large and fatty yeasts, full of synthesized lipids"

"oleaginous microorganisms."