From Take-Off to Offtake – Driving Sustainable Aviation Fuels to Commercial Scale

January 22, 2019 |

In a tale of two Washingtons, the sustainable aviation fuels movement will gather in Washington state in March and in Washington, D.C. in April to seek breakthroughs in the adoption rate of jet biofuels, which have been stalled for some time between the successful certification/demonstration efforts of the last decade and the widespread deployment which is the focus of all the effort.

The world is demonstrably interested in $2.00 fuels and demonstrably capable of mitigating aviation’s contributions to climate change at something around $5.00 per gallon. To put this in the context of flights and dollars, a jet burns roughly 31 gallons of fuel per passenger, flying from Seattle to Washington, D.C., or around $80 or so per passenger. So, switching to a $5.00 biofuel in a 10 percent blend (as a starting point in a journey towards sustainable fuels) would cost a passenger a premium of approximately $9. There’s plenty of evidence in totting up the sale of sandwiches, drinks, onboard wireless, premium economy seats, upgrades, lounge access and so forth that there’s substantial support for $10 price add-ons in aviation, these days. The lack of a direct benefit appears to be at issue.

One of these days, governments might impose a tax for carbon capture and storage, and then simply allow airlines to minimize that tax via utilizing low carbon fuels. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that taxes should be paid to clean up and store the residues of industrial or personal activity — after all, we pay to have garbage picked up and stored at the landfill. Think of it as a carbon storage charge — we pay data storage, why not carbon storage accounts?

And, that would set up a healthy competition between the purveyors of carbon storage and low-carbon fuels to rescue the costs that society pays to enjoy energy use, consequence-free. When carbon storage is costly and biofuels are cheap, we switch to more alternative low-carbon fuels. When low-carb fuels become costly and storage is cheap, why not store more?

That’s a basically rational market, for the long-term, and allows for expansion of energy consumption over time, as population grows and economies become more sophisticated. Bids for carbon capture storage might simply follow what in markets are called Dutch auctions (learn more about those, here). And a nice business opportunity for energy companies, long-term, would be gained for energy companies and others — competing both in the low-carbon fuels and carbon storage businesses. All it would require is the appointment of an authority to clean up the carbon trash — as, years ago, authorities were appointed to clean up bodies of water, or clean up alleys that stank from garbage and waste.

It’s worth pausing for a moment here, since one of these aforementioned events is being hosted by the Port of Seattle, to remember a Seattle-based civic pioneer named Jim Ellis, who pushed a series of municipal bond issues a generation ago to clean up Seattle’s Lake Washington (among many other objects aimed at greening Seattle). You might be surprised to learn that this successful civic effort aimed at environmental transformation was generally led by Republicans.

A group of young GOP leaders named a series of transformative bond issues “Forward Thrust” (using imagery from the development of supersonic transport by Boeing in the 1960s that also led to the nicknaming of Seattle’s NBA team the Supersonics). The same GOP leadership group also pushed through the establishment of Washington state’s Department of Ecology, which became one of the models for some of better aspects of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

All of which to say, from Iowa to Washington state, you more than occasionally run into the bipartisan spirit, albeit at a state level, when you visit the western United States and look into the nexus between environmental and development policy.

And we certainly could use some bipartisan spirit to establish a meaningful and enduring cost of carbon — but why not calculate the cost of carbon by comparing capture/storage to the cost of low-carb alternatives? In our current system we usually mandate some level of low-carbon fuels, and have a cap-and-trade system that gets invariably more expensive as the intensity of carbon reduction increases — because we are comparing to a petroleum baseline instead of a carbon storage baseline.

All that? Discussion for a future date — for now, we have the low-carbon legislation we have, (California, Oregon and British Columbia), plus the various mandates around the world that, none of them, directly address jet fuels at this time. And the discussion thereby becomes one of R&D, site selection, infrastructure, policy, offtake, financing — ultimately, feasibility.

The Seattle event – Washington Sustainable Aviation Fuels Summit

The Washington Sustainable Aviation Fuels Summit will be held 07-08, March 2019 and accepting registrations. Here is the link:

About the event: At the two-day Washington Sustainable Aviation Fuels Summit, you will hear from national leaders on engaging and aligning the entire sustainable fuels value chain as we bring Washington’s most innovative industries together to develop a local supply chain of clean and sustainable fuels for aviation.

Location:  Bell Harbor International Conference Center

Audience: Sustainable Aviation Fuel value chain

Port leadership and staff, local government, state government, fuel producers, feedstock providers, financiers, national and international thought leaders, academia, NGOs, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and large corporates in the Region.

Objectives of the event:

1. engage and align the entire sustainable fuels value chain toward sustainable aviation fuel solutions for the state of Washington;

2. garner a broad-based coalition of support for sustainable aviation fuels; and

3. inform the discussion around sustainable aviation fuels as WA legislators are contemplating a low carbon fuel standard.

The DC event – the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Summit at ABLC 2019.

The 2019 Sustainable Aviation Fuels Summit is part of ABLC, and also is up and accepting registrations.  Here is the link:

About the event: At the 3-day Washington Sustainable Aviation Fuels Summit, you will hear from national leaders on engaging and aligning the entire sustainable fuels value chain as we bring Washington’s most innovative industries together to develop a local supply chain of clean and sustainable fuels for aviation.

Location:  The Mayflower Marriott in downtown DC.

Audience: The global sustainable Aviation Fuel suppliers, scientists, consortia, airports, project developers, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, policymakers, financiers and NGOs.. It’s a key part of the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference, which takes place throughout the week (on stage April 3-5, and with sideline events earlier in the week).

Objectives of the event:

1. engage and align the entire sustainable fuels value chain toward sustainable aviation fuel solutions, worldwide. Highlight emerging technologies, financing structures, infrastructure developments, offtake opportunities, networking of project developers and suppliers, presentation of market forecasts, review of policy status and proposals including new proposals for low carbon fuel standards.

2. foster, support and educate the broad-based coalition of support for sustainable aviation fuels

Around the world, the latest in aviation fuels

In Colorado, Gevo and Renmatix announced a joint development agreement to evaluate the commercial feasibility of creating renewable jet fuel by integrating Renmatix’s Plantrose® Process with Gevo’s GIFTTM technology and alcohol to jet process. Renmatix’s Plantrose Process converts cellulosic feedstocks such as wood, agricultural residues, or other cellulosic raw materials to cellulosic-based sugars, the basic building blocks of sustainable fuels. Together, Renmatix and Gevo will explore project opportunities for renewable and low-emission fuel, isobutanol, jet fuel and isooctane in markets where there is a convergence of low-cost biomass and low-carbon fuel incentives.

In India, on December 17, Experimental Test Pilots and Test Engineer from IAF’s premier testing establishment ASTE, flew India’s first military flight using blended bio-jet fuel on the An-32 transport aircraft. The project is a combined effort of IAF, DRDO, Directorate General Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA) and CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum.

In Japan, Euglena has completed its new biofuel refinery plant and launched the production of algae and waste oil based biojet fuel and biodiesel in order to achieve their goal of being the first company to provide biofuel for commercial flights in Japan by 2020. The 60 million yen, or about $53 million, facility can produce 125 kiloliters of bio jet fuel and biodiesel per year, and it plans to raise the production capacity to 250,000 kiloliters by 2025, according to Nikkei Asian Review. The biojet fuel should qualify for ASTM certification by next spring and biodiesel produced from the new refinery is expected to be sold as early as next summer.

In California, Greencar Congress reports that researchers from JBEI along with Chinese colleagues have produced three promising aviation jet fuel feedstocks whose results were recently published in open-access journal Biotechnology for Biofuels. Researchers undertook computational analysis looking at three sesquiterpenes—epi-isozizaene, pentalenene and α-isocomene—and found they were comparable to commercial fossil-based jet fuel. They were then produced using bioengineering to demonstrate possible viable pathways for producing the feedstocks that are highly energy dense and have low freezing points.

In Australia, Virgin Australia announced it has achieved an Australian first, with the successful completion of a trial to deliver sustainable aviation fuel through Brisbane Airport’s general fuel supply system. Working in partnership with the Queensland Government, Brisbane Airport Corporation, US-based biofuel producer Gevo, Inc. and supply chain partners Caltex and DB Schenker, Virgin Australia led the procurement and blending of sustainable aviation fuel, or biojet, with traditional jet fuel for supply into the fuel infrastructure at Brisbane Airport.

In Indonesia, Reuters reports that the country is playing hardball with the US and France, demanding that its companies be able to set up aviation biofuel production plants using palm oil as feedstock in those countries in exchange for buying Boeing and Airbus planes, respectively. The country’s trade minister said he received positive feedback from the US’s secretary of commerce during meetings in late July and has also communicated the requirement to Airbus. Local media reports that the country said it would stop buying from Airbus if the EU banned palm oil use in biofuels.

In Canada, the Minister of Natural Resources issued a nationwide challenge to Canadians to develop the cleanest, most affordable and sustainable aviation fuel for the aviation sector to further reduce its carbon footprint and fight climate change. The Sky’s the Limit Challenge stimulates the development of sustainable aviation fuel supply chains so that the Canadian aviation industry can further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and lower the flying public’s environmental footprint. While the Canadian aviation sector has made significant investments in a fuel-efficient fleet, other measures such as sustainable aviation fuel will be required to achieve industry targets of carbon-neutral growth by 2020 and a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

New Energy Risk’s new performance insurance for TCG Global’s gasifiers and a significant project advance from Velocys in the UK are on the docket. These companies have key project components in common: the Red Rock Biofuels project which breaks ground in Lakeview, Oregon next month, aiming to supply 15 million gallons per year of renewable jet fuel to FedEx, Southwest Airlines and potentially the US Navy, made from waste woody biomass. TCG supplies the gasifier system and Velocys microchannel FT technology is converting that syngas to fuels.

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