Jet Fuel

Jet fuel is the umbrella term used for liquid fuel types of various specifications that are commonly used for in aviation (see also Aviation Fuels). They are primarily intended for the gas turbine engines of airliners, jets or helicopters, but specially adapted diesel engines for small aircraft have also used this type of fuel since the early 2000s.

Jet fuel is very similar to kerosene (petroleum). 

Jet fuels are produced from crude oil using fractional distillation in refineries. This process involves gradually heating the crude oil. When the boiling point of a certain component – a “fraction” – of the crude oil is exceeded, it passes into the gas phase. Jet fuel is a middle distillate with a boiling point between 175°C and 288°C. This type of fuel contains few light or heavy hydrocarbons. The chains are between 9 and 17 carbon atoms long, with the most hydrocarbon molecules in the fuel containing between 10 and 13 carbon atoms. As a result, the density of this colorless to light-yellowish fuel ranges between 0.747 and 0.84 g/cm3, so in most specifications, its density is higher than that of gasoline and lower than that of diesel fuel. The specific energy of the fuel Jet A1 is 43.1 MJ/kg. In contrast to diesel or gasoline engines, it is continuously combusted in the aircraft turbines and therefore causes comparatively few residues. Jet fuel exhaust mainly consists of carbon dioxide, some water vapor, and lots of hot air.

To improve the fuel properties for flight operation, especially at high altitudes, and to prevent damage to the turbines, certain additives are used in jet fuel (including to protect against frost and corrosion and prevent static charging). This addition of additives differentiates jet fuel from lighter fractions of kerosene (petroleum). By far the world's most commonly used aviation fuel made from kerosene is Jet A1, also called jet fuel.

Please note that there is a difference to the German term “Kerosin” which refers almost exclusively to jet fuel and not to the English product “kerosene/kerosine.” The latter translates to “Petroleum” in German, which is a closely related product. In English and many other European languages, the fuel used in aviation for aircraft turbines is indicated with the word “jet” (as in Jet A1/Jet Fuel and Jet B). Therefore, the terms “kerosene/kerosine” and the German “Kerosin,” as well as petroleum, are often mistranslated, even in the technical literature. 

The term “kerosene” is historically attributed to the Canadian physician, physicist and geologist Abraham Gesner who produced a highly flammable liquid from coal in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1846. Because a wax-like intermediate was produced during synthesis, Gesner called the liquid kerosene, after “keros” the Greek word for wax. In fact, it was petroleum.

Status: December 2016
All information subject to change. Errors and omissions excepted.