“Ethanol” Targets Sustainable Aircraft Fuel Development 

Europe has unveiled a new strategic plan for sustainable aviation, titled ‘Destination 2050 – A Route to Net Zero European Aviation.’ This represents the long-term vision for the aviation industry in the pan-European region under the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal, serving as a roadmap for addressing global warming. Several European Union countries have urged stakeholders from various sectors to participate in the EU Pact for Sustainable Aviation, supporting sustainable air travel both domestically and internationally. The aim is to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by the year 2050, with an initial target of a 55% reduction in emissions from intra-European flights by 2033.

One in four of the key measures in transitioning to sustainable aviation is the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), which is expected to contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions by up to 34%.

Ethanol is considered as one type of alcohol that is crucial to the fuel and alternative energy industry, playing a significant role in the country’s energy landscape. It is also one of the clean energy sources with high potential for sustainable development as aircraft fuel.

Sanchai Chasombat, M.D., the director of the Alcoholic Drink Organization, envisions the development of alcohol production technology to help reduce the costs of importing fuel and additives such as MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether) from abroad. Simultaneously, this effort aims to increase value and stabilize agricultural product prices.

“Since the ethanol production process in Thailand primarily uses agricultural raw materials, the ethanol utilized in the fuel industry is distilled to a purity level of at least 99.5%. It is then employed as a component to generate essential energy, such as bioethanol, obtained by blending ethanol with gasoline. Consequently, the ethanol production industry plays a crucial role in the country’s multifaceted development, particularly in the energy sector,” addressed Sanchai who also emphasized that the state-owned alcohol organization, with a responsibility for producing ethanol for both domestic and international markets, aimed to operate with the goal of continuous development to ensure the quality of the produced ethanol. This includes the adoption of environmentally friendly technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all processes, aligning with environmental policies in Thailand and globally.

The director of The Liquor Distillery Organization added that the organization had conducted studies and research to develop alternative raw materials for ethanol production, considering by-products from the agricultural sector such as rice husks and corn cobs. These options aim to increase ethanol production efficiency, reduce production costs, and utilize agricultural residues instead of allowing them to become waste. This approach adds value to the remaining agricultural materials by reintegrating them for maximum benefit.

“Ethanol is a crucial component in the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which is a biofuel produced from biological resources. SAF aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation industry. As a leading producer of high-purity ethanol, The Liquor Distillery Organization sees it as an important challenge to develop production technologies for ethanol that can be integrated into various industries, including sustainable aviation fuel production,” explained Dr. Sanchai, highlighting that the general ethanol production process involves using natural raw materials, also known as bioethanol production. This process involves transforming plant-derived raw materials into sugars, followed by fermentation to convert sugars into ethanol. The ethanol is then distilled to obtain high-purity ethanol.

The director of The Liquor Distillery Organization stated that the raw materials used were agricultural crops such as grains, rice, corn, and root crops like cassava. Another popular type is the use of sugar-based raw materials in the production process, including sugarcane and sugarcane bagasse. After the breakdown process, sugar is obtained to be used in the fermentation process by adding suitable yeast. Good quality yeast should have the ability to efficiently convert sugar into ethanol. The ethanol used as a fuel must then undergo a separation process to achieve a concentration of no less than 99.5%.

“The Liquor Distillery Organization has plans and strategies to develop the production process by incorporating new raw materials to replace the use of sugarcane bagasse and cassava. The new raw materials fall into the category of cellulose fibers derived from agricultural residues such as rice straw and corn stover, which are used as substitutes,” stated Dr. Sanchai. He also mentioned that the transformation of cellulose into ethanol has limitations, particularly in terms of high costs. Research and development into the ethanol production process from cellulose fibers aim to enhance efficiency and reduce the costs of using various components, ultimately lowering production costs. If future advancements can reduce production expenses, readily available agricultural residues may become a significant alternative raw material for sustainable fuel industries. This is a direction actively pursued and continuously developed by the alcohol organization up to the present.

In addition, ethanol produced through biochemical processes is considered a non-toxic fuel due to more complete combustion compared to conventional fuels. Moreover, it utilizes raw materials derived from agricultural crops, making ethanol fuel a clean energy source suitable for various automotive applications. This includes ongoing development and experimentation for its use as aviation fuel.

“Currently, the fuel used in aircraft is generally traditional fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming,” Dr. Sanchai explained. He further stated that the aviation industry is focusing on research and development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) as a sustainable alternative, aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in line with future Net Zero plans.

On the other hand, the use of bio jet fuels in aviation has limitations in terms of production quantity, as it requires a large volume of biomass as raw material. Additionally, there are high costs associated with the production process. Plans and policies are driving the development of ethanol for sustainability, with the goal of utilizing agricultural residues as a future source. Although the raw materials may vary, the quality of ethanol produced remains consistent. If commercial viability is achieved on a large scale, it will impact the development of bio jet fuel production processes for sustainable aviation in the future.

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