Egypt develops jatropha-based biofuels

Researchers at Egypt’s National Research Centre have produced a biofuel suitable for aeroplanes after successful semi-industrial experiments conducted last December, according to a media report from scidev.net.

The centre was officially commissioned by the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation to find a local biofuel to power aircrafts. This was to support the implementation of the International Air Transport Association plan, aiming to halve carbon dioxide emissions caused by aviation companies by 2050. Commercial aviation contributes about 2% of global carbon emissions annually.

Gizine El Diwani, professor at the centre’s chemical engineering and semi-industrial experiments department, says it all started with the production of a biofuel for cars. The researchers made biodiesel from the seeds of the jatropha tree — the seeds’ oil content is between 20-25 per cent. The oil can be easily extracted using organic solvents such as hexane, according to El Diwani.

Because the properties of jatropha oil differ from those of traditional engine oil — in terms of viscosity, density and degree of combustion — it has to go through a number of fairly simple chemical processes to be adapted for use in running engines.

At this stage, the fuel is suitable for car engines. To be suitable for jet engines, it should be able to resist freezing until at least minus 45°C. The research team sought to resolve this at a later stage in the fuel’s development.

El Diwani said: “We managed to improve the freezing point of Jatropha biofuel through a thermal cracking process, using thermal stimuli at a high temperature and pressure to bring the oil [temperature down] to minus 40°C without [it] freezing. Then, we were able to reach minus 45 degrees by introducing some [chemical] additives.”

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