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NEWS
Project Aims To Turn Corn Waste Into Jet Fuel
November 4, 2020

One of the significant challenges for renewable alternative fuels could be solved if a consortium of research laboratories led by the University of North Dakota (UND) can turn corn waste into jet fuel.

Wayne Seames, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering & Mines, will head the four-year, $3.75 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO).

Prof. Seames, who will use post-doctorates, graduate and undergraduate students from UND’s chemical engineering and chemistry programs on the project, likens the role of modern chemical engineers to 17th century alchemists. They sought ways to turn low-value metals such as lead into gold.

According to information, a team of scientists and engineers with UND’s ND SUNRISE (Sustainable Energy Research Initiative and Supporting Education) research center will develop a process to convert the lignin contained in corn stover – the stalks, stems and leaves left over after corn is harvested – into jet fuel. Lignin is a polymer that, along with cellulose, forms the structural support of plants.

“About 70 percent of corn stover goes back on to the field to renew the soil,” Prof. Seames explained. “That leaves about 30 percent available to use as a biomass raw material. You can imagine that with all the corn we grow in the U.S., that’s millions of tons of product.”

Making jet fuel from plant material is especially challenging, both for safety reasons and for providing enough energy density to enable a jet aircraft to fly the same distance as an airplane using conventional fuel.

“Jets fuels are extremely difficult to formulate,” Prof. Seames said. “You need a very high energy density, a very low freezing point and a very low volatility.”


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