Aviation Powered by Chickens - A Brief Look into Chicken Fat Biofuel

NASA Gulfstream II Shuttle Training Aircraft positioned in a downward trajectory


This piece was written by Miss Astronautica intern, Sulakna Herath

Stalking NASA on Google, as I assume most people do in their free time, I came across a fascinating article. NASA is currently looking into using chicken fat (yes you read that right – chicken fat!) biofuel as a replacement for jet fuel.

NASA’s subsonic fixed wings Project Manager Ruben Del Rosario stated that “The use of alternative fuels, including biofuels, in aircraft, is a key element for substantially reducing the impact of aviation on the environment."

This is an interesting concept, however not a new one. The need for action to build a more sustainable future has become imperative, meaning that renewable sources of energy are becoming a necessity. As a result, there have been many studies on the use of animal fat to produce sustainable fuel. It is therefore very exciting to see major corporations such as NASA engaging in these sustainable initiatives.

So how exactly does this work? To put it simply, a process called transesterification occurs, in which fat or oil reacts with alcohol to produce an ester and glycerol, followed by some more complex chemical reactions resulting in the production of biodiesel.

This method of producing a more sustainable fuel source provides many great benefits. Since chicken fat is the base of biodiesel, it is more biodegradable than petrol/diesel, and therefore less toxic to the environment. Thus, accidental biodiesel spillages result in less damage to ecosystems on lands and oceans.

Above is a video describing the steps included in biodiesel production.

Having seen the devastating impact on marine life following the burning of a cargo ship off the coast of Sri Lanka, which released toxic chemicals as well as 300 tonnes of fuel into the Indian ocean, the poisonous nature of our current fuel sources is very clear. Alternate options such as biodiesel are safer as they are not as toxic, moreover, biodiesel has a higher flashpoint (130C) compared to Petrol (52C) making the risks of fires starting much lower.

As extraordinary as this sounds, this is not a foolproof solution, since there are many issues regarding the use of chicken fat. For example, the heavy reliance on chickens as biodiesel becomes more common, may lead to more than just waste chicken fat being used. This would put added pressure on the meat industry; potentially increasing CO2 emissions produced.

As well as may go against the moral codes of some individuals, which may impact their decision to use biodiesel.

Furthermore, as biodiesel has a lower peak engine time compared to diesel some industries and individuals may not be as willing to implement biodiesel due to its inefficiency.

To conclude, biodiesel made from waste chicken fat seems a promising method to create an eco-friendlier fuel. It will be interesting to see how, when, and even if this alternate fuel source will replace jet fuel or even become a norm in our lives.

It does make me wonder if this would have ever occurred in the wildest dreams of the Wright brothers!


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Mechanical Engineering student. Future space engineer. Writer. Runner. Passionate about getting more women into STEM.

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