Can biofuels replace petroleum for aviation fuel?

I've read in the news that Alaska Airlines was flying with 10~20% biofuel and 80~90% petroleum. Is biofuel efficiency comparable to the efficiency of petroleum? I am curious whether or not the maximum speed of the airplane is same when it uses bio-fuel 100%.


The term biofuel refers both to the source of the fuel, as well as (currently, at least) the compounds contained in it. If the production quality is strictly controlled, eventually there should be no detectable difference between a fuel mixture derived directly from biological sources, and one derived from petroleum products (which, technically speaking, are of biological origin themselves, just a few million years removed). However, due to technological limitations, biofuels and petroleum-based fuels do have different chemical components today.

The reason we hear of differences in mileage or "energy density" in biofuels used to power automobiles as compared to gasoline/petrol is because they are not the same mixture of chemicals. This page goes into detail (the whole site is actually quite clear with its explanations), but the basic difference is that petroleum products are essentially 100% hydrocarbons (only containing hydrogen and carbon atoms) while nearly all biofuels contain oxygen as well, which has numerous effects on the fuel's physical and chemical characteristics, altering everything from polarity to reactivity to stability over time to the types of byproducts (and pollutants) produced during combustion.

There is much more to the story, but the basic answer to your question is yes, biofuels could replace petroleum-based products for aviation and many other types of fuels, and not impact the maximum speed of the aircraft. It may require engine modification, and the energy density may not be exactly the same (possibly reducing range), but for the long-term health of our planet we MUST reduce and eventually eliminate our use of petroleum.

By the way, the Aviation or Chemistry StackExchange sites would likely be able to provide you with much more in-depth answers, as ultimately this question is better suited to either or both of those sites than Biology, which would be more concerned with the production of biofuels by living organisms.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for your great answer and guidance to the aviation stackexchange. I will check it out to find the detail. $\endgroup$ – Trailblazer Oct 18 '15 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Trailblazer glad I could help. If this answer addressed your problem, please consider accepting it by clicking on the check mark/tick to the left of the answer, turning it green. This marks the question as resolved to your satisfaction, and awards reputation both to you and the person who answered. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Oct 18 '15 at 19:57

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