Two projects advance sustainable jet fuel

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 13, 2008
The search for renewable jet fuel made progress on two fronts this fall. The University of North Dakota's Energy & Environmental Research Center announced developments in its process, and a new aviation group committed some big names in the industry to support sustainable jet fuel.

The EERC announced Sept. 29 that it had produced samples of renewable jet fuel from three different oil feedstocks that met the specifications required for military aviation use under a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. "The major breakthrough is that we're using 100 percent renewable feedstock," said Tom Erickson, associate director for research at the EERC. Researchers developed a process described as being "somewhat similar to petroleum refining" to convert vegetable oils with the freeze point, density and energy content parameters necessary for jet fuel, and it was done in an efficient manner. The EERC is now working to produce larger samples to be used by DARPA for on-the-ground engine testing.

Shortly after its samples were produced, the EERC announced its first private industry partnership. It signed an agreement with Great Plains-The Camelina Co. to use the EERC's proprietary technology to produce advanced fuels from camelina. Along with testing the new oil feedstock, the agreement involves writing a feasibility study and business plan for a full-scale demonstration, said Chad Wocken, research manager at the EERC. "First, we need to go through a detailed design process, and that will take six months," he said. He expects the detailed cost analysis required for a business plan to take another six months to a year. "It's conceivable to have a plant operating within three years," he said. While the initial demonstration plant will be smaller, the feasibility studies will be targeted at a plant with a capacity of up to 50 MMgy.

A new Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group wants to make commercial aviation the first global transportation sector to voluntarily drive sustainability practices in its fuel supply chain. Boeing Co. and UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, have joined a group of international airlines in signing a sustainability pledge, including Air France, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Cargolux Airlines International S.A., Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Collectively, they account for approximately 15 percent of commercial jet fuel use. The group announced two initial research projects conducting sustainability assessments of jatropha and algae. Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies will review the jatropha, and the Natural Resources Defense Council will assess the algae.
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