SPARC in the Engine: Florida aims to be an alternative jet fuels hub as new public/private project debuts

October 12, 2017 |

Sometimes, what an engine needs to roar to life is a spark. Or a SPARC, as in this case.

As in the Southeastern Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata (SPARC), a consortium consisting of the University of Florida (lead), the University of South Florida, the University of Georgia, Auburn University, and other institutions, government agencies, the civil aviation industry, and Agrisoma Biosciences and Applied Research Associates (ARA) from the private sector.

This group has embarked on a $15M project to develop the inedible oilseed carinata as a winter crop — that is, a regionally adapted Brassica carinata, as the source of a new biofuels and bioproducts industry that will be deployed in the southeastern region of the United States.

The Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative is leading the supply chain development effort, which also includes ARA (conversion and co- products) and Agrisoma (feedstock and animal feed co -product) — and was key to the proposal’s success — having demonstrated its close ties with industry and customers (U.S. Navy) and their full engagement in the proposal, which requested a plan for aviation supply chain development.

For now, think jet fuel.

“Our goal is to commercialize Carinata to produce jet fuel and feed for livestock while mitigating risks along the entire supply chain,” says David Wright, project lead and an agronomy professor at the University of Florida.

Oil derived from the seeds of carinata will be converted to renewable aviation biofuel to replace fossil jet fuel, whereas the seed material will be the source of high value renewable chemicals and animal feed. This public-private partnership will lead to commercial development of a sustainable supply chain for carinata and its products and preparation of a green workforce for the new bioeconomy.

Carinata and jet fuel

If here at the Digest we could snap our fingers and hand a market expansion to growers, we’d point them at carinata and jet fuel.

Here’s our math. Carinata starch can produce up to 140 gallons of jet fuel per acre and though there’s not much income in the meal just yet, there are some mitigating factors.  First, it’s considered a non-food source, so no headaches with airline sustainability officers, and it is RSB-certified. Second, no need to do a second-step conversion from alcohol to jet fuel.

(Note to readers: there is nothing but good things to say about the costs and blessings of jet fuels sourced from MSW — but we’re thinking about very large-scale deployments in a hurry, here, and energy crops are quite scalable).

Carinata is reaching as high as 200 gallons per acre in trials, typical yields have been in the 1500-2000 lbs per acre range (according to this source). We’re using 140 gallons per acre as the model yield here — although we note the higher yields and the lower yields from various trials.

We think there’s a market price in there of $1.70 for the airline flying in and out of the California market, once jet fuel can be included under the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

That’s because carinata fuels could be eligible for support via the LCFS and the US Renewable Fuel Standard — up to $0.80 due to the LCFS and another $1.50 in advanced biofuels RINs.  (Yes, advanced biofuel RINs are priced around $1.00 — but consider that jet fuels have 1.5 times the energy density of ethanol, so they get added RINs).

That provides $4.00 to the value chain – growers, oil crushers and hydrotreater.

Here’s what they say at MIT

According to this analysis from MIT in 2011, a 6500 barrel per day project, using a hydrotreating process and veggie oils,  could provide sustainable investor returns, producing $3.50 per gallon distillate fuels with a vegetable oil price of $2.78 per gallon. That’s right around 35 cents per pound, and that’s in the real-world market price range for vegetable oils — though they generally also have markets for the meal, and that will present problems for carinata except on acreage considered low-performing for conventional oilseeds, unless valuable markets are found for the non-oil fraction. It translates to around $389 per acre for the grower; that’s not great for Iowa corn farmers, but it’s not terrible in marginal production country where land costs are low.

The SPARC backstory

At one stage it was the ARC Team, sounding like the guys who built Tony Stark’s ARC reactor technology. But far more real-world.

Established in 2011, the UF carinata research and development program for advanced renewables is the premier carinata research program in the US. What started as small plot varietal evaluations has evolved into to a dedicated integrated carinata research program focused on crop improvement and agronomic factors affecting commercial success of this new oilseed biofuel feedstock in the Southeast US.

Research has been supported through grant funding from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer services ($1.1 million grant from 2013 to 2016). In addition, funding from Agrisoma Biosciences Inc., and Mustard 21 contributed significantly to the introduction, testing and evaluation of carinata in Florida through multi-location yield performance testing. Among other tasks, the team managed Agrisoma’s winter nursery in Quincy, FL and assisted in selection of new and improved varieties of carinata targeted for the southeast that have the following key traits:

• Frost tolerance
• Early maturation
• Disease resistance/tolerance
• Standability
• High oil content
• Low glucosinolate content
• High seed yield

Under the direction of Associate Professor George Philippidis, a University of South Florida subaward of $1.2M over the next five years will focus primarily on SPARC’s extraction technologies for value-added chemicals from carinata and on green workforce development and integration. The project will engage several USF graduate students from various colleges and will utilize the Biofuels & Bioproducts Lab at the Patel College of Global Sustainability.

The Agrisoma backstory

In April, we reported that Agrisoma Biosciences closed its $15.4 MM Series B financing round, co-led by new investor Groupe Lune Rouge and current investors Cycle Capital Management, and BDC Venture Capital. This Series B round is used to support the global expansion of Agrisoma’s business.

The company raised $8 million in its Series A investment round in 2014. That round was led by Cycle Capital Management and included participation of BDC Venture Capital. In April 2015, we reported a group led by its management team made an equity investment in the company that gave it a 22 percent stake in the company. The group includes key members of Agrisoma’s senior management, board members and advisors.

The Carinata backstory

Resonance Carinata is certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials — one of only four crops in the world to achieve that status. Resonance Carinata meal has recently received regulatory approval as an animal feed, further underscoring the value of this crop to meet the increasing demand for renewable fuel and providing meal for the production of livestock. Additionally, Resonance Carinata is grown on semi-arid farmland, creating new economic and production opportunities for growers.

“Our research shows that Carinata grows well in the winter when fields are unseeded, giving farmers the opportunity to make a profit on their farms during winter months,” says Steven Fabijanski, PhD., President and CEO of Agrisoma Biosciences Inc.

For several years, a team of researchers at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, Florida have engages in studies to increase production of Carinata.  These studies, supported by Agrisoma, have initiated large-scale commercial production of the crop in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

An advantage of the fuel produced from Carinata is that it requires no blending with petroleum-based fuel, says Ian Small, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS plant pathology department and SPARC deputy project director.

Sequential cropping backstory

In July, we reported that UPM Biofuels was developing a new feedstock concept by growing Brassica Carinata as a sequential crop in South America. The Carinata crop produces non-edible oil suitable for biofuels’ feedstock and protein for animal feed.

The sequential cropping concept enables contract farmers to take agricultural land into use outside the main cultivation period, in winter time, without compromising existing food production. This does not cause any land use change, prevents erosion and improves soil quality. Carinata will provide additional income to local farmers, who do not normally have their fields in productive use during winter. In South America UPM grows and tests Carinata with third-party farmers in Uruguay and Brazil. Clearly, also an option for tropical Florida’s winter months.

UPM tests Carinata sequential cropping concept for biofuels

The Florida jet fuel backstory

In February 2016, we reported that Florida-based Applied Research Associates completed the delivery of over 150,000 gallons of 100% drop-in jet and diesel fuel to fulfill its DLA/US Navy certification fuel contract, two months ahead of schedule. For the first time ever, renewable jet and diesel fuels that meet petroleum fuel specifications without blending will be certified for use as 100% drop-in fuels. The renewable jet and diesel fuels were produced with ARA’s and Chevron Lummus Global’s Biofuels ISOCONVERSION process which takes any kind of fat, oil, and grease, from yellow and brown grease to tallow to distiller corn oil to plant oil, and converts it into 100% drop in fuels.

The Biofuels ISOCONVERSION (BIC) process converts any renewable oil feed stock into high yields of 100% drop-in, pure hydrocarbon fuels and renewable chemicals.

ARA and Chevron Lummus Global (CLG) have developed the Biofuels ISOCONVERSION (BIC) process based on ARA’s patented, novel Catalytic Hydrothermolysis (CH) process and CLG’s market-leading hydroprocessing technology. With a CAPEX of $1 per annual production gallon and OPEX similar to petroleum refining costs, the BIC process efficiently converts renewable fats, oils, and greases from animals, plants, or algae into Renewable, Aromatic, Drop-in(Readi) fuels known as ReadiJet  (JP-5, JP-8 and Jet A) and ReadiDiesel (ASTM D 975 and F-76 Naval Distillate) and renewable chemicals. ReadiJet and ReadiDiesel fuels are ready to use, without blending with petroleum, in turbine and diesel engines designed to operate on petroleum-based fuels.

More on the Story: The Multi-Slide Guides

Readi for 100% drop-in fuel: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to ARA’s ReadiJet, ReadiDiesel

Readi for 100% drop-in fuel: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to ARA’s ReadiJet, ReadiDiesel

The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Agrisoma

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