From Food to Jet Fuel

When:  Jul 29, 2021 from 19:00 to 20:30 (ET)
Associated with  Carolina Section
Dr. Derek Vardon is a senior researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden Colorado. In this program he will be discussing work in the conversion of wet waste including food fragments and animal manure into sustainable aviation fuels, or SAF. This work was highlighted in the April 2021 edition of Aerospace America.

From food waste to flight – Towards decarbonizing aviation fuel with wet waste-to-energy conversion technologies

With the increasing demand for low-carbon sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), new technologies are needed that can economically expand current U.S. supplies while meeting carbon intensity reduction targets. Wet waste is one such promising low-cost, widely available feedstock with the energy potential to displace over 20% of U.S. jet fuel consumption; however, the complexity and high moisture content of wet waste typically relegates its embedded energy to methane production by anaerobic digestion. To overcome this limitation, this talk will discuss recent efforts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to halt the anaerobic digestion of wet waste and produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs) as precursors for jet fuel that is compatible with today’s airline fleet. Findings will be presented in regard to: i) challenges and opportunities when converting wet-waste into SAF with VFAs, ii) approach to leveraging today’s wet waste processing and refinery infrastructure for VFA-SAF, iii) fuel property testing to ensure new fuels meet ASTM jet fuel specifications, and iv) techno-economic and carbon intensity considerations to guide further development of wet waste-to-energy conversion technologies.


Derek Vardon is a Senior Research Engineer and Project Team Leader working at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, USA) to decarbonize aviation and heavy-duty ground transportation with low-cost, low-net carbon fuels produced from biomass and waste. He is the author of over 30 peer-reviewed scientific publications on biofuels and biobased chemicals, inventor on multiple pending and issued U.S. patents, and affiliate faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at the Colorado School of Mines.

Derek gained a hands-on appreciation for energy technology while serving 6 years in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear power Electrician’s Mate following high school. He is most passionate when working to get technology out of the lab and into the marketplace with interdisciplinary teams that leverage national laboratory, academic, and industry capabilities to address critical technical barriers for sustainable transportation.



Online Instructions:
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John Blanton
(864) 382-0626