What’s new, different and hot in military and aviation biofuels

February 19, 2015 |
An F/A-18 Super Hornet from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23

An F/A-18 Super Hornet from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23

It’s been a year of deployment and globalization. Here are the most important items to know.

Back in 1927, 100,000 people flooded Le Bourget Airport in Paris to greet Charles Lindbergh as he completed the first solo, non-stop, transatlantic crossing by plane. Now, it’s done by dozens of pilots every day, who have no one to meet them except the driver for their offsite, low-cost motel. Sigh, it’s the nature of news.

In the world of aviation biofuels, the bands and the bunting are rolling out less frequently. But mostly, because the sector has moved out of a noise-filled early R&D phase and is heading towards deployment. Someday, aviation biofuels will be as routine as topping off a fuel farm, and the world will have changed so completely that no will think about it any more than we think about the miracle of the wheel.

For a few years, readers became accustomed to a flurry of R&D partnerships, market studies, financing announcements, technical milestone reveations and sexy certification efforts where airlines seem to fly all over the place for a handful of flights demonstrating that planes won’t fall out of the sky with aviation biofuels.

Now, the radio silence descends as the process of detailed engineering of plants begins, construction gets underway, followed by the inevitable yet interminable commissioning period where a plant may spend up to 3 years reaching nameplate capacity and steady-state operations for a novel processing technology using novel feedstocks.

We’re some distance from aviation biofuels as “business as usual” but we do see quite a bit more “in business” activity.

With that in mind, and with The Digest releasing the complete agenda for the 6th annual Military & Aviation Biofuels Summit, part of ABLC week , it’s a good time to review the sector’s progress over the past year. Here are the most significant developments in military and aviation biofuels for 2014-15.

Deployment

In December, Boeing and South African Airlines announced that South African farmers will soon harvest their first crop of energy-rich tobacco plants, an important step towards using the plants to make sustainable aviation biofuel.

Boeing and SAA, along with partners SkyNRG and Sunchem SA, also officially launched Project Solaris, their collaborative effort to develop an aviation biofuel supply chain with a nicotine-free tobacco plant called Solaris. In Limpopo province, company representatives and industry stakeholders visited commercial and community farms where 123 acres (50 hectares) of Solaris have been planted. Oil from the plant’s seeds may be converted into bio-jet fuel as early as next year, with a test flight by SAA as soon as practicable.

In November, SAS along with the Lufthansa Group, and KLM, signed an agreement with Statoil Aviation for a regular supply of bio-fuel at Oslo Airport. SAS was first off the ground in Norway and from Stockholm Arlanda in Sweden with a bio-fuel mix around a week ago and this agreement shows the airline takes its corporate social responsibility seriously in reducing its green house gas emissions.

Via an agreement signed with Avinor and the above named airlines, Statoil Aviation is to supply 2.5 million liters of bio-fuel to the refueling facility at Oslo Airport. With a 50% bio-fuel mix, this will fuel around 3,000 flights between Oslo and Bergen and make OSL the first major airport in the world to offer a regular supply of bio-fuel as part of daily operations from March 2015.

Also in November, SAS Airlines and Norwegian Air flew their first flights on biofuels  with a 48% blend with 52% fossil aviation fuel. The companies’ intention is to promote demand so fuel will be produced from Norwegian forests, rather than the used cooking oil feedstock used in Tuesday’s launch. Norwegian flew from Trondheim to Oslo while SAS flew from Bergen to Oslo.

In September, Southwest Airlines signed an agreement with Red Rock Biofuels to purchase low carbon renewable jet fuel, made using forest residues that will help reduce the risk of destructive wildfires in the Western United States. The airline’s agreement with RRB covers the purchase of approximately three million gallons per year. The blended product will be used at Southwest’s Bay Area operations with first delivery expected in 2016.

In August, Garuda said that it expects to be using an aviation biofuel blend by 2016 comprised of biofuel and avtur (aviation turbine fuel). The aircraft are already equipped to use biofuel and the carrier aims to run a trial flight soon. However, the state-owned carrier’s commitment to supporting the use of clean energy will be highly dependent on the availability of the crude palm oil (CPO)-based biofuel that is currently being tested at state-owned oil and gas company PT Pertamina’s laboratory.

In July, UOP announced that its green fuels process technology wasselected by Petrixo Oil & Gas to produce renewable jet fuel and renewable diesel at a new refinery to be built in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. Petrixo will use UOP Renewable Jet Fuel process technology to process approximately 500,000 metric tons per year of renewable feedstocks into renewable jet fuel and renewable diesel, also known as Honeywell Green Jet Fuel and Honeywell Green Diesel. The process technology is capable of processing a variety of renewable feedstocks.

In June, Gol Airlines confirmed that they would power 200 flights on a 4% biofuel blend during the World Cup. The company had completed its first trial flight between Sao Paolo and Brasilia in 2013, using Amyris jet fuel.

In April, British Airways and Solena Fuels chose Thurrock, Essex for its MSW-to-aviation biofuels project that will produce 120,000 metric tons of fuel annually from 2017. BA has commited to buy 50,000 tons of the fuel that will be made from 575,000 tons of post-recycled waste.

R&D

In January, Boeing and Embraer opened a joint sustainable aviation biofuel research center in a collaborative effort to further establish the aviation biofuel industry in Brazil.

At the Boeing-Embraer Joint Research Center in the São José dos Campos Technology Park, the companies will coordinate and co-fund research with Brazilian universities and other institutions. The research will focus on technologies that address gaps in creating a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Brazil, such as feedstock production, techno-economic analysis, economic viability studies and processing technologies.

In December, Airbus signed an MOU with Emerging Fuels for US sustainable aviation fuels production. EFT has developed an Advanced Fixed Bed F-T reactor and catalyst system that can convert synthesis gas from, it claims, virtually any carbonaceous feedstock into transportation fuels such as renewable diesel and sustainable jet fuel. The company recently signed a cooperation agreement with global energy infrastructure engineering, procurement and construction company Black & Veatch (B&V) that grants B&V exclusivity in representing EFT technologies in select markets and applications.

Also in December, Vertimass announced it has received a grant of up to $2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant was awarded to aid the organization in its mission to commercialize “green” catalyst technology that converts ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel blend stocks, while retaining compatibility with the current transportation fuel infrastructure. With an exclusive world-wide license with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), an innovative developer of patented catalyst technology, Vertimass seeks to expand the ethanol gas market, while creating an outlet for the use of ethanol as a precursor to the diesel and jet fuel markets. The blend-stocks produced with this catalyst technology are anticipated to fall under the Renewable Fuel Standard at the same level as the ethanol used as feedstock.

In November, Total confirmed that it was experimenting with methods to produce sugar from cellulosic materials to eventually produce aviation fuels. The company’s raw material supply senior manager told the International Sugar Organization’s conference that as the oil and gas industry is accustomed to decades of development, there’s no problem in waiting for the development of their new solution.

In October, Boeing and Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China opened a demonstration facility that will turn waste cooking oil, commonly referred to as “gutter oil” in China, into sustainable aviation biofuel. The two companies estimate that 500 million gallons (1.8 billion liters) of biofuel could be made annually in China from used cooking oil. Boeing and COMAC are sponsoring the facility, which is called the China-U.S. Aviation Biofuel Pilot Project. It will use a technology developed by Hangzhou Energy & Engineering Technology Co., Ltd. (HEET) to clean contaminants from waste oils and convert it into jet fuel at a rate of 160 gallons (650 liters) per day. The project’s goal is to assess the technical feasibility and cost of producing higher volumes of biofuel.

Also in October, Japan’s Initiatives for Next Generation Aviation Fuels launched with the aim to produce and supply aviation biofuels in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Partners in the initiative include the University of Tokyo, Boeing Co., Japan Airlines Co., Nippon Cargo Airlines Co., All Nippon Airways Co., Narita International Airport Corp. and Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. along with government agencies and observers.

In June, news arrived from Byogy Renewables that it had invested in a strategic partnership with AusAgave Australia, aimed at developing multiple feedstocks to develop low cost sugars for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals. Structured initially as a strategic partnership, Don Chambers, CEO of AusAgave, will join the Byogy team to drive overall global feedstock operations — and, if all goes well, we may find that a merger of the companies may emerge down the line. Kudos for the partnership arrived from as far away as Brazil, where Byogy established a subsidiary in 2011 and recently partnered with Avianca Brasil Airlines to support global approvals of higher blends of Byogy’s premium fuel. So, not surprising to hear that Avianca Flight Operations Director Norberto Raniero stated: “Our team now includes more elements to produce a competitive, alternative aviation biofuel.” http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2014/06/15/tequila-sunrise-byogy-ausagave-sign-pact-to-advance-agave-as-a-sustainable-aviation-biofuels-feedstock/

In April, as a part of the European Union funded EuroBioRef1 project, together with several partners, Process Design Center developed a new class of bio aviation turbine fuel (ATF) components consisting of heavy branched alcohols. The project demonstrated the possibility to produce these alcohols in two ways from lignocellulosic biomass: Black liquor from a kraft pulp mill or biomass is gasified and the resulting syngas, after cleaning, is fed to a mixed higher alcohols synthesis unit. Two processes, one operating in the gas phase and one operating in the liquid phase, are then applied to increase the carbon number of the alcohols.

Also in April, Gevo announced that it had inked an agreement with Lufthansa to evaluate Gevo’s renewable jet fuel with the goal of approving Gevo’s alcohol-to-jet fuel (ATJ) for commercial aviation use. Lufthansa’s testing is being supported through work with the European Commission.

In March, Blue Sun Energy, ARA, and Chevron Lummus Global achieved a key development milestone with their 100 barrel/day (4,200 gallon/per day) demonstration-scale Biofuels ISOCONVERSION facility in St. Joseph, Mo. Less than a year after beginning engineering to scale the technology, the team has completed plant commissioning and has begun 24/7 system operation. “We are a step closer to our goal of commercial scale production of 100% drop-in diesel and jet fuel from industrial and waste oils at prices competitive with their petroleum counterparts,” said Chuck Red, Vice President of Fuels Development at ARA.

Also in March, Neste Oil joined forces with DONG Energy to develop an integrated process to produce renewable diesel and aviation fuel based on agricultural residues. DONG Energy’s Inbicon technology will be used in the first part of the process to pre-treat biomass and produce cellulosic sugars that can be converted into microbial oil with Neste Oil’s technology. Microbial oil can be used as a feedstock for premium-quality renewable fuels such as renewable diesel and renewable aviation fuel.

In January 2014, Boeing, Etihad Airways, Takreer, Total, and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology announced a collaboration for sustainable aviation biofuels in the UAE.

The collaboration, BIOjet Abu Dhabi: Flight Path to Sustainability, will develop a comprehensive framework for a UAE biofuel supply chain, which is already in motion. Etihad Airways recently completed a 45-minute demonstration flight in a Boeing 777 powered partially by biofuel converted from plants by Total, and refined into jet fuel by Takreer, together representing UAE-produced sustainable aviation biofuel.

Markets & market impact

In December, Sustainable Aviation, a coalition of the UK’s airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service provider NATS, launched its latest Road-Map, which considers the opportunities for sustainable aviation fuels. The Road-Map identifies the potential for a 24 per cent reduction in aviation carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and the generation of GBP265 million in economic value plus the creation of 4400 jobs in the UK over the next 15 years.

In October, NASA researchers took to the skies for the second year in a row with a DC-8 and other aircraft to study the effects on emissions and contrail formation of burning alternative fuels in jet engines. This follow-up set of Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions flight tests, known as ACCESS II, repeated a similar series of tests flown during 2013, while also adding a few new wrinkles to the investigations to capture more and better data. A quick look at the ACCESS II data confirmed with high certainty the results from ACCESS I, which showed at least a 50 percent reduction in soot emissions from the DC-8 when it burns the blended fuel as opposed to the jet fuel alone.

In March, Ecofys advised the Dutch government on how they can stimulate the uptake of bio jet fuels in the Netherlands. According to the assessment, the combination of progressive Dutch public and private stakeholders, the important position of the Netherlands in fossil jet fuel trade, strong logistics and infrastructure and the foresight of a growing international market reaching full commercialization after 2020 altogether offer unique strategic opportunities for the Dutch economy and stakeholders to maintain and strengthen its international position in this evolving business.

Military biofuels

For our overview of the sector, see our September report “Inside the US Navy’s new, cost-competitive military biofuels program”, which includes comments to the Digest from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Navy DIrector for Operational Energy Chris Tindal, and several CEOs of companies making military aviaiton fuel.

Also, see our report on the Italian Fleet’s first certification run, “Flotta Verde! The Italian Navy’s Green Fleet underway, the Story in Pictures.”

In December, the US Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced its first successful alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) supersonic flight, fueled by Gevo’s renewable isobutanol. his is the first aviation test program to comprehensively test and evaluate the performance of a 50/50 ATJ blend in supersonic (above Mach 1) afterburner operations – a critical test to successfully clear the F/A-18 for ATJ operations through its entire flight envelope. This military specification would allow for commercial supply of ATJ fuel to the Navy and Marines Corps. Gevo’s ATJ is produced at its demo biorefinery in Silsbee, TX, using isobutanol produced at its Luverne, MN, fermentation facility.

In September, the Department of Defense awarded $210 million under the Defense Production Act to Emerald Biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy and Red Rock Bio towards the construction of biorefineries that produce cost-competitive, drop-in military biofuels. Under the grants, the companies will build biorefineries to produce military spec fuel that is expected to cost the US military, on a weighted average, less than $3.50 per gallon — or cost competitive with petroleum-based fuels, with availability expected as soon as 2016, and have a 50 percent of greater reduction of emissions compared to conventional fuels. The biorefineries, once complete, will have a combined capacity for producing 100 million gallons of military-spec jet fuel and marine diesel

In August, the US Navy and the Chilean Navy extended their four-year collaboration for mutual research on advanced alternative fuels. The latest agreement enables both nations to boost energy security and deliver an increased certainty of energy supply and cost; the US Navy aims to have 50% of overall organizational use powered by alternative energy resources by 2020, while Chile plans to have 45% of its newly deployed capacity for 2014-2025 derived from non-conventional, renewable energy sources.

In June, the Department of the Navy announced that at least 37 million gallons of drop-in biofuels are being sought as part of its F-76 marine diesel and JP-5 shipboard jet fuel supply in the upcoming Inland/East/Gulf Coast bulk fuels solicitation released by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Energy on June 9. Bids were due by July 9, and deliveries of fuel will start April 1, 2015. The Inland/East/Gulf Coast is the single largest bulk fuels acquisition program, and is valued in excess of $3.5 billion.

In May, the Royal Australian Navy announced plans to run up to 50 vessels in its fleet on 50/50 biofuels by 2020 to remain compatible with the US Navy for joint training exercises, despite the government recently pulling back on excise tax rebates for road transport biofuels. In 2016, the RAN will send a biofuel-powered helicopter and frigate to participate in the US’s “Great Green Fleet” demonstration.

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