Today in Energy Report Reviews Renewable Diesel

A recent Today in Energy report looked at the future of the renewable diesel. Unlike other biofuels, which do not share identical properties of the fuel they are replacing, renewable diesel fuels, or hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) are virtually indistinguishable from their petroleum counterparts. In 2014, more than one billion gallons of drop-in fuels were produced globally and the volume is expected to increase in the coming years in part in the U.S. as the Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) are increased for this category within the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.22.20 AMAccording to the article, the most common HEFA biofuel production is a a diesel replacement fuel alternately marketed as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) abroad, or as renewable diesel in the United States. HEFA fuels are produced by reacting vegetable oil or animal fat with hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst. There are currently 10 plants worldwide that produce renewable diesel with Finnish Neste as the world’s largest producer who is currently working with Boeing on fuel testing. Other major producers are Italy’s ENI, U.S.-based Diamond Green Diesel, and Swedish refiner Preem.

Another outlet for HEFA fuels using similar technology is biojet fuel, which can currently be blended with petroleum jet fuel in proportions up to 50 percent. Many global airlines have begun conducting test flights using various biofuel fuels produced from a multitude of feedstocks including camelina. In the U.S. the Department of Defense is testing these fuels as well with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force leading the way.

Green Flights for Tokyo Olympics Athletes, Fans

The athletes and fans who are traveling to the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games in Tokyo will be flying a bit greener as Boeing and Japanese aviation industry stakeholders have charted a path to develop and fly with aviation biofuels. A group of 46 organizations have formed The Initiatives for Next Generation Aviation Fuels that along with Boeing includes ANA (All Nippon Airways), Japan Airlines, Nippon Cargo Airlines as well as Japan’s government and the University of Tokyo and others.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), aviation biofuels can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50-80 percent compared to current fuel options.

tokyo olympics logo“Boeing is proud to work with Japan’s aviation sector, including customers and the Japanese government, to achieve their ambitious goals for developing sustainable aviation biofuel,” said George Maffeo, president, Boeing Japan. “Building on our longstanding relationships in Japan, we are committed to help reduce aviation’s carbon emissions and its reliance on fossil fuel.”

INAF said the Olympics and Paralympics are “the perfect opportunity” for Japan and its airlines to showcase their environmental commitment.

“Developing and using sustainable aviation biofuel is an excellent way for Japan to show its commitment to the environment and technologies that can reduce aviation’s environmental impact,” said Shinji Suzuki, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics,University of Tokyo. “And, as the new aviation biofuel ‘roadmap’ indicates, Japan is ready to accelerate development and use of sustainable aviation fuels by the 2020 Olympics.”

Among the report’s conclusions:

  • Industry, government and academia in Japan need to collaborate to promote the introduction of sustainable aviation biofuel to support Japan’s energy security and reduce aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Potential feedstocks, or biologically based sources, that could be used to produce sustainable aviation biofuel in Japan include municipal solid waste, plant oils and animal fats, used cooking oil, algae, cellulosic biomass and residues from the wood products industry.
  • Policy incentives promoting the introduction of next-generation aviation fuels are a prerequisite to success in aviation biofuel use.

The INAF report is available here.

United Airlines Invests in Fulcrum BioEnergy

United Airlines has made a $30 million equity investment in U.S.-based waste-to-energy company Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc., According to United Airlines, this is the single largest investment by a U.S. airline in alternative fuels and sets them apart in Infographic_Fulcrumthe aviation industry in the advancement of aviation biofuels and carbon emissions reductions. In addition to the equity investment, United and Fulcrum have entered into an agreement that will study the feasibility of developing up to five projects located near United’s hubs. If the projects come to fruition, the facilities would produce up to 180 million gallons of aviation biofuels per year.

“We know alternative fuels is an emerging industry that is vital to the future of aviation and this is just one of our initiatives to help make these fuels saleable and scalable,” said United’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brett Hart. “Investing in alternative fuels is not only good for the environment, it’s a smart move for our company as biofuels have the potential to hedge against future oil price volatility and carbon regulations.”

As part of the partnership, United has negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum and, subject to availability, will have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel a year for a minimum of 10 years at a EcoSkies+plane_1 (1)cost that is competitive with conventional jet fuel. Fulcrum anticipates its first alternative fuels plant will begin commercial operation in 2017.

According to Fulcrum, their technology converts household trash, or municipal solid waste (MSW), into renewable jet fuel. Fulcrum’s renewable jet fuel is expected to provide a greater than 80 percent reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions when compared to conventional jet fuel.

“United Airlines just demonstrated why they are one of the leaders in commercial aviation,” added E. James Macias, Fulcrum’s president and CEO. “United’s investment and participation in our projects is a tremendous boost to our program. Their support, commitment and backing accelerate our schedule to bring large volumes of competitively-priced, sustainable fuels to United and the rest of the aviation industry.”

Gevo’s Biojet Fuel Catches Air

Gevo’s technology to convert wood waste to biojet fuel has achieved a breakthrough in its fermentation technology and will soon “catch air” as its soars in the sky in test flights. The wood waste is first converted to isobuanol and then converted into alcohol-to-jet fuel.

Gevo has an operational plant in Luverne, Minnesota that has flexible feedstock technology allowing the plant to produce isobutanol from multiple feedstocks. In the past the primary feedstock has been corn and the resulting fuel has been tested by airlines and the U.S. military in their planes. This new process uses forest residues. Removing waste helps to prevent forest fires.

tree copy

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

According to the company, they have adapted their patented Gevo Integrated Fermentation Technology(R) (GIFT(R)) to convert the cellulosic sugars from wood into renewable isobutanol. They then use their patented hydrocarbon technology to convert the cellulosic isobutanol into alcohol-to-jet-synthetic paraffinic kerosene (ATJ-SPK) fuel.

“There are significant economic and environmental benefits of renewable jet fuel, which makes it a great market for Gevo. This announcement demonstrates the flexibility of our technology and reinforces our technology leadership,” said Dr. Pat Gruber, Chief Executive Officer of Gevo, Inc. “The next two milestones for renewable jet fuel are the approval by ASTM and the scheduled commercial test flights. Our team is actively engaged in both of these activities.”

Gevo’s cellulosic isobutanol production will be conducted at a demonstration facility in St. Joseph, MO, that the company jointly operates with ICM Inc. The ATJ-SPK will be produced in Silsbee, Texas, at the demonstration facility the company operates with South Hampton Resources.

The company is a member of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) and is providing the organization with technology to enable the commercial scale processing of cellulosic sugars from wood waste into valuable products. The cellulosic jet fuel made using Gevo’s technologies will be used in a 1,000-gallon renewable fuel demonstration test flight that NARA announced yesterday in conjunction with Alaska Airlines. Gevo’s isobutanol and ATJ-SPK technologies are both planned to be licensed by NARA as part of this project.

Ralph Cavalieri, director of NARA, added, “We’re encouraged by Gevo’s work with the NARA team in converting Pacific Northwest forest residual biomass into jet fuel, and look forward to working with them on this test flight and in the next phases of the commercialization of this technology.”

Alaska Airlines Commits to Renewable Fuel

Alaska Airlines has teamed up with Washington State University’s Northwest Advanced Renewable Alliance (NARA) to advance development on renewable jet fuel made from forest residues. As a result of the collaboration, Alaska Airlines plans on taking the aviation biofuels to the sky during a demonstration flight next year.

NARA is focusing on developing alternative jet fuel derived from post-harvest forest residuals, which are often burned after the timber harvest. By using these waste materials as the feedstock of a biojet fuel supply chain, NARA and its aviation industry partners, are looking to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions as well as bolster sustainable economic-development potential in timber-based rural communities located throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Photo Credit: Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance

Photo Credit: Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance

“Alaska Airlines is thrilled to partner with NARA to help further promote sustainable aviation biofuels,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines senior vice president of external relations. “Sustainable biofuels are a key to aviation’s future and critical in helping the industry and Alaska Airlines reduce its carbon footprint and dependency on fossil fuels.”

NARA is a five-year project supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and is comprised of 22 member organizations from industry, academia and government laboratories.

“Developing alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals represents a significant economic challenge with considerable sustainability benefits,” added Michael Wolcott, NARA co-director. “While the price of oil fluctuates, the carbon footprint of fossil fuels remains constant. NARA efforts to engage stakeholders from forest managers to potential fuel users like Alaska Airlines to lay the foundations for a bio-based, renewable fuel economy is exciting work that we believe will benefit society in the years ahead.”

Biofuel Producers Thrive Despite Cheap Oil

According to a new report, “How Alternative Fuel Companies Will Compete with $50 Oil,image001many biofuel producers are still able to thrive despite dropping oils prices nearing $50 per barrel. Lux Research evaluated 25 alternative fuel producers to identify the ones most likely to compete with cheap oil and found that renewable diesel producers Neste Oil and Diamond Green Diesel, gasification specialist Red Rock Biofuels, and Edeniq, which makes cellulosic ethanol, were among 13 alternative producers of fuels best positioned for cheap oil.

Lux Research analysts used its database of 400 alternative fuel producers to select 25 companies – from seven technology families, four feedstock types and three stages of development – for detailed analysis.

Among their findings:

  • Neste Oil, Diamond Green are benefiting from cost cuts. Thanks to lowered production costs achieved through feedstock diversification, renewable diesel producers Neste Oil and Diamond Green Diesel were the clear leaders in Lux’s model. On the other hand, Solena Biofuels and Joule Unlimited were among the laggards on account of delayed production and commercialization.
  • Developers move to alternate markets. Amid low oil prices, high-profile companies such as Solazyme, Amyris, and Gevo have shifted decisively toward specialty chemicals and nutraceuticals this year. Sapphire Energy also has shifted away from fuels and now targets nutraceuticals, producing Omega-3 EPA from its algae.
  • Oil majors remain a pillar of support. Believing cheap oil to be a short-term phenomenon, oil majors have remained prominent supporters of alternative fuel developers across various technology platforms. For example, Total has added to its existing portfolio in biofuels and bio-based chemical companies by investing in Renmatix, a biomass-to-sugars company.

“$50 oil was never an afterthought for technology developers,” said Yuan-Sheng Yu, Lux research associate and the lead author of the report. “Many companies have technology roadmaps for cheaper alternative fuels. Not all of them will actually achieve that benchmark, but some will – while others will find alternate markets or, ironically, use support from oil majors to survive until prices rise again.”

NRDC Launches Airline Scorecard

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has launched a first-of-its-kind scorecard that rates airlines’ use of integrating sustainable biofuels into their fleets. Air travel emits more than 650 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year – nearly the amount emitted of 136 million cars. The leader of the pack is Air France/KLM.

“It’s great to see certain airlines becoming leaders in the use of sustainable biofuels,” said Debbie Hammel, senior resource specialist with NRDC’s Land & Wildlife Program and author of the scorNRDC Aviation Sustainable Biofuel Scorecardecard. “As the world rises to the challenge of curbing climate change and cutting carbon pollution, addressing air travel pollution has to be part of the mix. The aviation sector has been pretty proactive about this issue, and an industry-wide increase in the use of sustainably produced biofuels is definitely on the horizon.”

NRDC’s Aviation Biofuel Sustainability Scorecards evaluated airlines’ adoption of biofuels, focusing on the use of leading sustainability certification standards, participation in industry initiatives to promote sustainability certification, public commitments to sustainability certification in sourcing, and the monitoring and disclosure of important sustainability metrics. The leading sustainable carrier is Air France-KLM, followed by British Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific and Alaska Airlines.

NRDC has found that the airline industry has made great strides in recent years. During the past five years, 40 commercial airlines around the world have flown nearly 600,000 miles powered by biofuels. Low-carbon fuels will play a key role in the industry’s efforts to hold its carbon emissions steady after 2020 and cut net carbon emissions to half of the 2005 level by 2050 according to NRDC. To meet these goals, a new market has emerged to provide biofuels for the aviation sector. But, said NRDC, the adoption of credible, third-party sustainability certification systems are necessary to ensure that the emerging aviation biofuels market is providing fuels that are sourced sustainably.

The scorecard and issue brief encourages airlines to send clear market signals notifying suppliers of the importance of sustainability certification – ideally using the certification framework created by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) – and make a public commitment to source 100 percent certified-sustainable biofuels.

“How airlines move forward is still up in the air,” Hammel added. “While some in the industry have made real progress in implementing sustainability commitments this past year, there’s more to do. The industry must commit to robust standards for sourcing these fuels to ensure that they’re truly sustainable in the long-term.”

ASTM Ups FAME Tolerance, Helps Biodiesel for Jets

ASTMlogoA change in the amount of fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) allowed in jet fuel will open the door for more biodiesel to be used in aviation. This news release from ASTM, a group that sets quality standards for a number of items including fuels, says that revising the safety standard of the allowable cross-contamination of FAME in jet fuel from 5.0 parts per million to 50 parts per million under the Aviation Turbine Fuel Standard (ASTM D1655) will help get more biodiesel into aviation fuels without compromising safety.

“The jet fuel specification keeps the aviation industry safe while adapting to the expanded presence of biofuels,” says ASTM member David J. Abdallah, Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering. “In fact, no discernible negative impact on jet fuel product quality was observed with up to 400 ppm of biodiesel.” Abdallah noted that a potential future revision could further increase the standard to allow 100 parts per million.

ASTM D1655 was developed by ASTM Subcommittee D02.J0 on Aviation Fuels and D02.J0.01 on Jet Fuel Specifications, part of Committee D02 on Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels and Lubricants.

ASTM used information from the EI-JIP Report, Joint Industry Project: Seeking original equipment manufacturer (OEM) approvals for 100 mg/kg fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) in aviation turbine fuel as the basis for the change.

Boeing, Embraer Open Biofuel Research Center

boeing1A new research center will look to establish the aviation biofuels industry in Brazil. Aviation manufacturers Boeing and Embraer opened a joint sustainable aviation biofuel research center in the South American country.

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.

“Boeing and Embraer, two of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers, are partnering in an unprecedented way to make more progress on sustainable aviation biofuel than one company can do alone,” said Donna Hrinak, president, Boeing Brazil and Boeing Latin America. “Brazil, a pioneer in the sustainable fuels industry, will play a leading role in establishing the biofuels industry and helping meet aviation’s environmental goals.”

“Our purpose is to support work on developing and maturing the knowledge and technologies needed to establish a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Brazil with global reach,” said Mauro Kern, executive vice president, Engineering and Technology, Embraer. “Brazil has shown its potential and is already a benchmark for the clean-energy industry, having created very successful ethanol and biodiesel industries.”

This joint research center is the latest in a series of collaborative efforts by Boeing and Embraer, and Brazilian partners on sustainable aviation biofuel.

Vertimass Secures $2M BioJet Fuel Grant

Vertimass is in negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to receive a $2 million grant to aid them in commercilizing the conversion of their “green” catalyst technology that converts ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel blend stocks. The resultant fuel is compatible with current transportation fuVertimassel infrastructure.

The company has a world-wide exclusive license for the technology from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Vertimass hopes to expand the ethanol market and believes that its fuel will be certified under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). According to the company, benefits of their technology include:

  • A single step conversion of ethanol into a hydrocarbon blend stock without the addition of hydrogen.
  • The ability to process between 5 percent and 100 percent of ethanol concentrations.
  • Production of minimal amounts of light gases.
  • Operation at relatively low temperature and atmospheric pressure.
  • The ability to shift product distributions in response to changing market demands. The technology, which dilutes ethanol streams, will result in higher yields to gasoline, jet fuel and diesel products and is expected to prolong the life of vehicles.

“This green catalyst technology can be rapidly added to an existing ethanol plant with low capital and operating costs while providing fuel flexibility and essentially replacing dehydration operations,” said Charles Wyman, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Vertimass. “With the ability to add operations to existing plants at a rapid pace and low cost, the new product will help meet the goals of Renewable Standard Fuel production and also help the Federal Aviation Administration achieve their target of 1 billion gallons of renewable aviation fuel by 2018.”

The new Vertimass technology has an estimated yearly production potential of 140 billion gallons. The technology would also expand opportunities to use more ethanol from corn in the U.S., sugarcane in Brazil and cellulosic biomass worldwide.