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Fly the Bio Skies: 10 Milestones in the Summer of Aviation biofuels

| August 31, 2012

As we head into the Labor Day holiday and we look back on a big summer for biofuels development, there has been the Summer of Algae II underway for the past couple of weeks. There’s been the drought, and the policy fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard.

But in many respects, its been a summer about aviation biofuels – starting with the demonstration of the US Navy’s Green Strike Group and continuing to announcements of projects right through the summer. The story has internationalized, the technologies are broadening, and more and more blue-chip players are making serious steps towards commercial deployment.

Here were 10 milestones you might have missed.

1. At the beginning of the summer, the Green Strike Group got underway at RIMPAC. The United States Navy may be laboring under a congressional ban on biofuel purchases that cost more than bargain basement fossil fuels, but no one said the Navy can’t burn the biofuel it’s already got. Nothing would bring that day closer than the naval exercises held off the Hawaiian islands starting June 29, known as the Rim of the Pacific Fleet Exercises, or RIMPAC War Games. The setting of the movie “Battleship”, RIMPAC is a competitive war simulation in which participating fleets and naval vessels attempt to outmaneuver and “sink” each others’ ships, winning or losing tactical points in the RIMPAC scoring system.

Why a big deal: Critics carped over the per-gallon cost, but the demonstration was all about technical performance, and the Green Strike Group performed spectacularly. Next stop for the Navy: parity-performance, parity-cost military biofuels by mid-decade.

2. In mid-June, the DOE released details of a long-awaited funding opportunity announcement for advanced biofuels for aviation and military applications, titled “Innovative Pilot and demonstration-scale production of advanced biofuels.”

According to the DOE, “the intent of this FOA is to identify, evaluate, and select innovative pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefineries that can produce hydrocarbon fuels that meet military specifications for JP-5 (jet fuel primarily for the Navy), JP-8 (jet fuel primarily for the Air Force), or F-76 (diesel).”

Why a big deal: That’s major dollars these days at the budget-squeezed DOE.

3. Right before (US) Independence Day, the Air Force tested Gevo’s alcohol-to-fuel jetfuel made from isobutanol in an Air Force A-10 Thunder Bolt on June 28 at Elgin Air Force Base. The flight on a 50/50 blend was hailed has a great achievement because of the fuel’s alcohol base rather than oils.

Why a big deal: The testing and certification effort for alcohol-to-jet fuels is making big strides. It’s hoped that these fuels can provide a low-cost path in the near term.

4. In early July, Canada’s National Research Council funded test flights in May and June of a Dassault Falcon 20 to test renewable aviation fuel produced from domestically-produced brassica carinata feedstock. The plane was followed by a Lockheed T-33 vintage jet trainer to measure emissions in real time.

Why a big deal: Canada’s strides towards aviation biofuels are gaining momentum – note that a new Canadian-focused feedstock, carinata, is in the mix here.

5. Also in early July, GE committed to buy 5 million gallons of biofuels annually for its aviation division, starting in January 2015. The commitment totals half of the 10 million gallons used at the company’s jet engine testing facilities near Cincinnati. Many Ohioans see a kickstart for the crop economy, which already has the capability to grow and process miscanthus, camelina, soy, and switchgrass, among other more traditional feedstocks.

Why a big deal: That’s a ton of testing, indicative of a major effort at GE

6. In mid-July, Lufthansa said that it believes that A1 jet fuel will remain the main aviation fuel for the next 20 years but does expect renewable jet fuel to replace up to 5% of the market in the next five to seven years. With the European economic climate no longer interesting for investors, the airline believes that agricultural investments—for feedstock for aviation biofuel, for example—is an area not yet fully exploited.

Why a big deal: 5 percent may sound small, but its a 60 billion gallon market – that’s 3 billion gallons.

7. In the first week of August, Amyris announced the signing of an amendment to its collaboration agreement with Total. Under the enhanced collaboration, Total reaffirmed its commitment to Amyris’s technology and dedicated its $82 million funding budget over the next three years exclusively for the deployment of Biofene, Amyris’s renewable farnesene, for production of renewable diesel and jet fuel. Total’s commitment includes a $30 million payment to Amyris this year.

In related news, Amyris announced a Q2 loss of $46.8 million on revenues of $19.0 million, with revenues down from $32 million for Q2 2011.

Why a big deal: Total aims to take Amyris-based jet fuel all the way.

8. Earlier this month, Boeing and COMAC opened a joint Aviation Energy Conservation and Emissions Reductions Technology Center, a collaborative effort to support commercial aviation industry growth. The Boeing-COMAC Technology Center’s first research project aims to identify contaminants in “gutter oil” and processes that may treat and clean it for use as jet fuel. Waste cooking oil shows potential for sustainable aviation biofuel production and an alternative to petroleum-based fuel because China annually consumes approximately 29 million tons of cooking oil, while its aviation system uses 20 million tons of jet fuel. Finding ways to convert discarded “gutter oil” into jet fuel could enhance regional biofuel supplies and improve biofuel’s affordability.

Why a big deal: Can you say China?

9. Last week, Aemetis announced a license agreement with Chevron Lummus Global for the inexpensive, rapid production of renewable jet and diesel fuel by the conversion of existing biofuels and petroleum refineries.

The license agreement grants Aemetis Advanced Fuels Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aemetis, the use of the Biofuels ISOCONVERSION Process for the production of 100% drop-in renewable jet fuel and diesel in Aemetis biorefineries throughout North America.

Why a big deal: This is 100 percent drop-in fuel, rather than 50/50 blends that biofuels are currently limited to because they lack aromatics

10. This week, the Australian Initiative for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (AISAF) was inaugurated on 08 August 2012. It has funding for 12 months in the first instance. The Steering Committee held its first meeting on 20 August 2012. AISAF is a public-private initiative that aims to facilitate sustainable growth of the aviation industry by bringing together Australian leaders in the aviation industry and in the components of the developing supply chain for sustainable aviation fuels, promoting and driving the development of the SAF industry in Australia, undertaking collaborative work under the Memorandum of Understanding on SAF signed by Australian and the USA on 13 September 2011, and undertaking collaboration work with other international partners.

Why a big deal: Australia makes a huge stride towards an aviation biofuels industry

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