Aviation biofuels are the hottest topic in the field as 2010 begins, no question about it.
This month, Rentech signed an off-take agreement with 13 airlines for renewable, drop-in jet fuel made from waste biomass; AltAir signed with 14 airlines for renewable, drop-in jet fuel made from camelina oil. Later this quarter, Dynamic Fuels will open a commercial-scale facility in Louisiana that can manufacture up to 75 million gallons per year, again from waste biomass.
Add to that a series of successful flight tests by Air New Zealand, Japan Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Continental Airlines, among others – and you have the makings of a monster market.
Global aviation jet fuel demand is at 60 billion gallons per year – with a 50 percent blend of biofuels and jet fuel expected to be ASTM certified and FAA certified this year, a potential market of 30 billion gallons per year will open up for the industry. To put this in context, biofuels sales for 2009, globally, were around 22 billion gallons.
“I fully expect that in the future,” said Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson, “that I will make my daily 15-mile commute in a car that is powered by green electrons. But heavy rail, heavy truck, heavy marine will be using diesel or diesel-electric hybrids for a long time, and aviation has nowhere to go but aviation biofuels.”
Small wonder the airlines are seeking biofuels contracts. A report from RDC Aviation and Point Carbon has concluded that the aviation industry will face an initial carbon liability of $1.53 billion in 2012 when aviation enters the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme in 2012. Among top airlines, British Airways, United and Delta will all have exposures in excess of 3 million metric tons of CO2, and face offset payments of more than $50 million each. Biuofuels offers a way of escaping the payments and nervously watching the oil price ticker.
The outlook for the aviation is much simpler with respect to fuel: biodiesel and ethanol don’t work in the airline equation, so renewable, drop in fuels have been the accepted standard for some time. Target cost? Again, simple: parity with oil, or better – with perhaps some allowance for a carbon price and for the 1% or so improvement in fuel economy gained by the switch to biofuel.
Simple as that aspect is, there’s much that is complex. Here are the major developments, opportunities, players and issues.
In fuels, there is one basic spec in development: Bio-SPK, which is expected to receive final commercial flight approval this year. Bio-SPK is made primarily from virgin oils such as algae, jatropha or camelina – but waste biomass will be a major factor in the future.
The major processor? UOP Honeywell, which commenced licensing a process that converts virgin oils to renewable jet fuel through hydrotreatment.
The major renewable oil developers. Solazyme, Sustainable Oils, Sapphire Energy and Terasol have been active to date in supplying crushed oils to UOP for processing.
Feedstocks and processors: the players
One of the fuels under study at Wright-Patterson is Dynamic Fuels – the joint venture of Tyson and Syntroleum, which will commence producing 75 Mgy of renewable diesel, and renewable jet fuel, based on the company’s R-8 platform, produced from animal fats and vegetable oil s by the company’s Bio-Synfining process. The Air Force Research Laboratory recently tested 600 gal of R-8 for short. According to a report from Wright-Patterson, “initial physical property and T63 engine testing indicates R-8’s performance as indistinguishable from that of S-8, Syntroleum’s Fischer-Tropsch synthetic jet fuel that first flew in 2006 aboard the B-52. Additional tests of R-8 are underway, with the product also entering the first stages of the MIL-HDBK-510 Alternative Fuel Certification Process.”
Rentech is producing synthetic jet fuel and renewable diesel at its demonstration plant in Commerce City, Colorado. This facility currently produces Jet A fuel for commercial aviation and it is also sold to the U.S Air Force, a deal that was the company’s first commercial sale. This facility also produces Rentech’s clean diesel or Rendiesel which will be produced in commercial scale at the Rialto Project.
The Rialto (CA) Project will take urban yard and woody green waste to produce ultra clean and renewable fuels. It is estimated that Rialto will produce 600 barrels per day of synthetic fuel as well as 35 megawatts of renewable power. The Rialto project is currently completing all feasibility studies and will complete front-end engineering and design in 2010. Estimated completed construction and start up is expected in 2012.
Sustainable Oils, a producer of camelina-based fuels, announced that it has been awarded a contract by the Defense Energy Support Center for 40,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel.
The fuel will be delivered to the Naval Air Systems Command fuels team in 2009 and will support the Navy’s certification testing program of alternative fuels. The contract includes an option to supply up to an additional 150,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel.
Camelina was selected by the DESC because it does not compete with food crops, has been proven to reduce carbon emissions by more than 80 percent, and has already been successfully tested in a commercial airline test flight. In addition, camelina has naturally high oil content, is drought tolerant and requires less fertilizer and herbicides.
In December, the Air Transport Association of America announced that 14 airlines from the US, Canada, Germany and Mexico have signed MOUs with AltAir Fuels – for the entire output of a new biofuel facility that will be constructed in Mississippi and Washington state.
Twelve airlines from the United States, Canada, Germany and Mexico – Air Canada, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa German Airlines, Mexicana Airlines, Polar Air Cargo, United Airlines, UPS Airlines and US Airways – have signed MOUs with both producers.
In addition, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines signed the MOU with AltAir Fuels, and Orlando-based AirTran Airways signed the MOU with Rentech.
Sapphire Energy, like others, is developing an affordable, scalable commercial algae production system – its “above ground oil field,” as Sapphire’s Tim Zenk put it. At the same time, it has mounted a parallel effort to identify its “magic bunny” – the strains with the optimal combinations of high energy content, fast reproduction, and ability to tough it out in the wild, wild west of open ponds.
The Sapphire approach to finding the right “bunny” – amidst tens of thousands of microalgal species, and potentially an infinite number of strains: an industrial biotech approach to R&D: equal parts of discipline, throughput, and sense of adventure.
In October, the US Air Force ordered a total of 400,000 gallons of renewable biofuels from Sustainable Oils, Cargill and Solazyme for testing as a military aviation fuel. the companies, in turn, will use UOP’s processing technology to convert oil from camelina, algae and animal fats into renewable jet fuel.
According to UOP, the military has ordered a total of 600,000 gallons of renewable jet fuel to be delivered in 2009 and 2010, in a series of contracts issued by the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC). For the Air Force order, DESC tapped Cargill and Sustainable Oils to provide jet fuel made from rendered animals fats and camelina, respectively; the Navy tapped Sustainable Oils and Solazyme. According to UOP the orders are as follows: “For the Navy, Solazyme will provide up to 1500 gallons of fuel from algae.”
Solazyme received an order from the Navy for 20,000 gallons of renewable algae derived F-76 Naval distillate fuel for use in Navy ships. In fulfillment of the jet fuel contract, Solazyme said it will partner with Honeywell’s UOP to use the latter’s renewable jet fuel processing technology. The contract calls for delivery of 1500 gallons of SolaHRJET-5 renewable algae derived jet fuel to the Navy for compatibility testing next year.
US Air Force
The Air Force has announced that it will construct a $2.5 million Assured Aerospace Fuels Research Facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, also home to the Air Force Institute of Technology and the Air Force Research Laboratory. The facility is expected to be completed in summer 2010, and according to a report in Daily Tech, “It is expected to develop around 15 to 25 gallons of research jet fuel composed of coal, biofuels, and other gas alternatives every day.”
In November, KLM has also announced the formation of a joint-venture company to develop sustainable biofuels called SkyEnergy, together with North Sea Petroleum and Spring Associates. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) will advise the consortium in relation to ecological aspects.
According to KLM, the development of biokerosene “is a quest that KLM is pursuing in accordance with strict financial, technological and ecological criteria.”
In December, KLM conducted a flight partly powered by a biofuel produced from the plant camelina. The flight took off from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for a demonstration lasting around one hour. On board were a number of Dutch government officials and industry partners – the first time passengers have been on board a biofuels demonstration flight. Some of the camelina was reportedly sourced from Great Plains-The Camelina company.
In October, Boeing, Mexico’s Airports and Auxiliary Services agency and Honeywell’s UOP announced a partnership at the annual ALTA aviation conference to develop sustainable aviation biofuels sources in Mexico. Darrin Morgan, director of biofuel strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said that the partners would assess “sustainable biomass systems such as halophytes, algae, jatropha, castor.”
The announcement builds on meetings in September with more than 50 government and business representatives in Mexico. The three partners will commission initial studies on promising biomass systems for Mexico and to formalize this collaboration with a commitment to work via the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, a global multistakeholder initiative developing a global biofuel sustainability framework.
In Qatar, Qatar Airways, Qatar Science & Technology Park, Qatar Petroleum and Airbus announced the establishment of the Qatar Advanced Biofuel Platform, which will prepare a detailed engineering and implementation plan for economically viable and sustainable biofuel production, a biofuel investment strategy, and an advanced technology development program.
Last October, Qatar Airways successfully conducted the world’s first commercial flight powered by a Gas-to-Liquid fuel blend last October, which proved to be a significant development in the use of alternative fuels.
The group has been advised by Seattle-based US-based Verno Systems Inc., embarked on a very comprehensive and detailed feasibility study on sustainable Biomass-to-Liquid (BTL) jet fuel. QABP will be structured so that it can be expanded to include additional projects, technologies, investments and partnerships globally, and is focused on short, medium and long term goals. The partners have not disclosed feedstocks or timing at this point, although Airbus noted that the QABP is an “Important step to reach carbon neutral growth in the aviation sector by 2020.”
Continental, Japan Air Lines, Virgin and Air New Zealand
In 2009, these four airlines conducted successful tests of biofuels in their jets, providing valuable flight data for analysis.
The Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative (CAAFI) doesn’t get as much publicity as other organizations, but it’s well worth following. Last October, the CAAFI environmental team established a lifecycle emissions framework for jet biofuels, and CAAFI provided business and economics teams in support of s 46-company meeting at the Department of Commerce last September, including both end-users and producers.
In September 2008, he newly-formed Sustainable Aviation Fuels User Group (SAFUG) announced two research projects. The first, funded by SAFUG founding member Boeing, will complete the first lifecycle analysis of CO2 emissions and socio-economic impact of jatropha curcus. In the other, the Natural Resources Defense Council will perform a similar analysis of algae as a sustainable feedstock for aviation fuel.
In October, Boeing and UOP announced an initiative, with the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group consortium and the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, to examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of biofuels made from salicornia bigelovii and saltwater mangroves – plants known as halophytes.
In October, TRI, Rentech, Velocys, Choren, Flambeau River Biofuels/Johnson Timber, AP Fuels and World GTL among other companies banded to form the Low Carbon Synthetic Fuels Association to represent the biomass to liquid fuel industry using the Fischer-Tropsch process to produce synthetic renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel. The Association will focus on lobbying for advanced biofuels, and have received support from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, Auburn University, Audi America, Chemrec AB, Mercedes Benz USA, Pacific Renewable Fuels, Renewable Energy Institute International, and Volkswagen in comments delivered to the EPA on the importance of advanced drop-in biofuels that do not require infrastructure changes.
Biofuels Digest, Jim Lane