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Aircraft maker extraordinaire Boeing has joined forces with its Chinese equivalent to engineer a way of converting discarded cooking oil into aviation fuel.

The project is being overseen by Hangzhou Energy Engineering & Technology, an alternative energy specialist, at a brand new R&D centre set up by Boeing and Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC).

The research taking place at the succinctly-titled Boeing-COMAC Aviation Energy Conservation and Emissions Reductions Technology Center will focus on waste oil from deep fat fryers and other lardy locations.

China apparently gets through 29 million tons of cooking oil every year while its aviation industry consumes 20 million tons of jet fuel, so there are obvious opportunities if the researchers can find an efficient way to treat the discarded oil effectively.

The focus of the first year of the project will be on whether sufficient cost savings can be made just by improving the efficiency of the conversion process which turns waste oil to jet fuel.

The centre, which is also working with local universities to research sustainable aviation biofuels, opened two months ago at COMAC's new Beijing Aeronautical Science and Technology Research Institute (BASTRI).

"As one of the member organisations of COMAC, BASTRI was built for carrying out civil aviation industry research and we aim at expanding knowledge in sustainable aviation biofuels and carbon emissions reduction," said Qin Fuguang, president of BASTRI, in a canned statement.

"China is the world's fastest growing aviation market and the biggest consumer of cooking oil. There's great potential for converting the waste cooking oil into sustainable aviation fuel."

Another spur for the project could be to reduce the trade in illegal “gutter oil” – basically waste oil which is recycled with the minimum of treatment and resold as cheaper cooking oil.

The gutter oil black market has grown over the past decade or so but is thought at a cost to public health. The toxic oil is thought to cause stomach pain and could lead to stomach and liver cancer or even birth defects in babies, according to some reports. ®

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