Clean aviation fuel from waste wood and tomato stems

July 1, 2022

The aviation sector must work hard to reduce CO2 emissions. One way to achieve this is to replace standard aviation fuel (kerosene) with sustainable fuel. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is working with private sector partners on developing aviation fuel components based on lignin from residual streams such as wood waste and tomato stems.

For the near future, electricity appears to be a viable alternative to fossil-based aviation fuels for shorter flights. But longer flights are expected to require liquid fuel for some time to come. Nevertheless, lignin expert Richard Gosselink from Wageningen Food & Biobased Research sees interesting opportunities for making aircraft fuel more sustainable: “Lignin fractions in biobased waste flows contain components that can replace fossil components in aviation fuel. We just need to reprocess those components to make them suitable for use in sustainable aviation fuels.”


The required processing steps are being developed in the TKI project Lignin2jetfuel. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is working together with raw material suppliers (Renewi Nederland B.V. and the Swedish Sekab Biofuels & Chemicals), the Eindhoven University of Technology spin-off Vertoro B.V., Q8 Research & Technology and Eindhoven University of Technology. “Renewi provides wood waste and tomato stems. Sekab works with sawdust (wood waste from the paper industry and furniture manufacturing) to produce cellulosic ethanol with lignin as a residue. And Vertoro can process both woody biomass and lignin. During processing, waste wood and tomato stems are dissolved in alcohol, from which lignin oil is produced. That is the most important fraction that we will use in our research and development together with Eindhoven University of Technology.”

Cyclic compounds from lignin

Gosselink and his colleagues will convert the lignin from the biomass into cyclic compounds, also known as cycloalkanes, via catalytic conversion. The colleagues in Eindhoven are also testing new catalysts and process conditions to make the desired cyclic compounds from the lignin fraction. Q8Research is another important partner in the consortium. This R&D division of Q8 wants to support the company’s ambition to become an important player in sustainable mobility by offering an alternative to fossil fuels. For this purpose they are investing in the development of new future-oriented technology. “Q8Research is working on the final step in the process: using hydrogen treatment to improve the quality of biobased fuel components,” explained Gosselink.

2050: CO2 emissions reduced by half

The project is in line with the goal of the International Civil Aviation Organization and the European Union to achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions from the aviation sector by 2050. The aim of this project is to develop a proof of concept at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 3 or 4 by 2025. The project is thus expected to make an important contribution to the development of sustainable fuels based on woody residual streams. The Wageningen work package also includes a techno-economic analysis of the market opportunities and a life cycle analysis to determine whether the envisaged environmental objectives are achieved. “Our goal as a sustainable mobility player is to develop and market biobased products to help our customers throughout the world reduce their CO2 footprint. Using all possible renewable raw materials is crucial. This project is one of the initiatives we are undertaking to help achieve the 2050 climate ambition,” said Maarten Van Haute, Alternative Fuels Officer at Q8Research.

Positive impact

Gosselink is positive about the benefits of the project: “In terms of CO2 reduction, we expect to make a major impact. If we look at the development of a similar technology used to produce fuels from recycled cooking fat, the costs aspect also looks positive. The project will certainly have a follow-up, with a pilot as the next step. An advantage is that the biobased residual raw materials can be made available in large quantities and the reactors to make the biocomponents are already in place.”

This project is funded by RVO under project number TIND221009 and runs from March 1st 2022 until February 28, 2025.