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Fry the friendly skies: Airports hope it’s sustainable to convert used cooking oil into jet fuel

Fry the friendly skies: Airports hope it’s sustainable to convert used cooking oil into jet fuel

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is among the first major hubs to convert yesterday’s french fries to tomorrow’s jet fuel, in a super-sized effort to boost sustainable energy efforts.

Used cooking oil, such as the greasy goodness coming from fryers at the DFW McDonald’s restaurants, is now being repurposed and converted to fuel in a surprisingly efficient manner, airport officials said.

“If you are Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and you have a fryer in your restaurant — you’re recycling oil,” DFW McDonald’s franchisee Chalmer McWilliams told NBC News.

“When it’s no longer at the quality to make those great fries and we can repurpose it, why wouldn’t you do that?”

Pratik Chandhoke, technical services manager for sustainable aviation fuel at Houston-based Neste US Inc., said the chemical composition between cooking oil and jet fuel isn’t too far off.

The company strains out leftover fries and McNuggets, heats the oil and adds hydrogen — among other steps — to convert it to jet fuel.

“If you look at any oil, they all have these building molecules, hydrocarbons. We can take those atoms and we then do some processing magic in our refineries and we actually mimic the chemistry of a jet fuel,” said Chandhoke, who insisted that fryer-based fuel is exactly the same as all other petroleum fuels going into jets across America today.

“There’s no difference, it’s the same jet fuel that you are using right now.”

DFW now collects about 32,000 pounds of cooking oil each month that it coverts to sustainable aviation fuel, known in the industry as SAF.

The cooking-to-jet-fuel conversion rate is efficient, according to Neste, with one gallon of recycled cooking oil amounting to about three-quarters of a gallon of SAF.

The big drawback for now is the high cost of producing this recycled fuel, as the price of SAF runs two to six times higher than traditional jet fuel.

But DFW officials said as more airports covert cooking oil to jet fuel, those prices will bottom out.

“We already believe we have the infrastructure setup. We have fuel distribution systems,” DFW Vice President of Environmental Affairs Robert Horton told NBC Dallas. “If we can get continuous supply at the right economic rates, we have a drop-in solution that can be applied right here.”

Morgan Chesky

Morgan Chesky is a correspondent for NBC News.

David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.

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