Alex McFarlane

Microbial biofilm development and management in aircraft fuel systems

PhD research student

Telephone: +44 (0) 114 222 0045 (lab), +44 (0) 114 222 0046 (office)
Room: C48 (Animal and Plant Sciences)


Alex graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Environmental Science in 2007, from Lancaster University. After completing his degree Alex worked for Shell Research; initially working on fuel product quality, before moving into aviation fuel research and development in 2008, where he worked on developing alternative fuels (both jet fuels and Avgas) and technical service projects. In 2012 he joined Sheffield University as a post-graduate student.

Research interests

Since the 1960’s uncontrolled biodeterioration has been a widely reported as a problem throughout the petrochemical industry. Jet fuels (and middle distillates in general) are particularly susceptible to microbial deterioration, as they provide all of the chemical and physiological requirements for micro-organisms to proliferate; resulting in the biodegradation of fuels, corrosion of surfaces and biofouling.

Several previous studies have researched microbial proliferation and degradation of jet fuel, and the effects are well documented. However, due to environmental pressures the aviation industry is changing. Novel construction components and alternative fuels are now being introduced, providing benefits compared to their traditional counterparts and potentially altering the existing ecosystem dynamics. It is likely that community structure, function and dynamics will be affected, potentially introducing new risks.

Therefore we are undertaking a programme of work aiming to explore the impact of alternative fuels and novel materials (e.g. used in aircraft fuel tank construction) on biofilm development in aircraft fuel systems, identifying the biological, chemical and physical process that underlie these changes and using this knowledge to investigate novel management and mitigation approaches.