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100% Drop-in Aviation Biofuels "Closer” to Reality

This week, 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, Missouri. 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 percent 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.

This technology won the Digest’s own 2012 Best New Fuel Award. At the time we wrote: “Aviation biofuels is, without a doubt, one area in which just about everyone agrees that biofuels have a strong future, if the economics are there and the product is a drop-in fuel. Well, nothing is more of a drop-in than a 100 percent drop-in, but to this point, a shortage of aromatics in renewable aviation fuels have restricted biofuel blends to 50/50 with fossil fuel. That cuts out, potentially, 30 billion gallons of global demand — and is there ever demand.

The Promise

From a 100 percent-biofuels test flight conducted with these fuels last October by National Research Canada — the first civil jet powered by 100 percent unblended biofuel — NRC reports:

Information collected in-flight and analyzed by a team of experts revealed an important reduction in aerosol emissions (50 percent) when using biofuel compared to conventional fuel. Furthermore, additional tests performed on a static engine show a significant reduction in particles (up to 25 percent) and in black carbon emissions (up to 49 percent) compared to conventional fuel.

These tests also show a comparable engine performance, but an improvement of 1.5 percent in fuel consumption during the steady state operations. The jet’s engines required no modification as the biofuel tested in-flight meets the specifications of petroleum-based fuels.

More on the Process

The Biofuels ISOCONVERSION Process utilizes patented Catalytic Hydrothermolysis (CH) reactor technology, developed by Applied Research Associates (ARA), which utilizes water as a catalyst to quickly and inexpensively convert plant oils into stable intermediate oil products which are very similar to petroleum crude oil. The intermediate oils are processed with hydrogen using CLG’s ISOCONVERSION catalysts to produce drop-in jet fuel and diesel. Unlike most other process technologies, the renewable fuels produced by this process are 100% replacements for petroleum-based jet and diesel fuel.”

The Biofuel ISOCONVERSION Process consists of:

  • ARA’s Catalytic Hydrothermolysis (CH) process, which mimics nature’s way of converting biomass to petroleum crude. While nature’s processes take millennia to produce petroleum crude, it takes less than a minute for the CH process to turn plant oils into a high quality crude oil intermediate. A U.S. patent was granted to ARA in 2010 on the CH process.
  • CLG’s ISOCONVERSION Catalysts efficiently upgrade the crude oil intermediate produced by the CH reactor into on-specification, finished fuels. The final products are all fungible and nearly identical to petroleum-derived fuels. ReadiJet and ReadiDiesel can be tailored to meet all commercial and military jet fuel specifications

ARA scientists developed the CH Process using high temperature water to create biocrude.  A U.S. patent on the CH Process technology was granted to ARA in 2010.

The team will continue to test the system with various feedstocks, including Resonance, an industrial oil feedstock from Agrisoma Biosciences as well as fatty acid distillate, distillers grain corn oil, and tallow to ensure reliable and cost effective operation. The demonstration system will be operated in campaigns to produce tens of thousands of gallons of jet fuel and diesel for certification testing, endurance testing, and test flights through the end of this year.

The Economics

“We are looking at taking waste oil and industrial oil feedstocks,” said ARA’s Chuck Red, ” and upgrading them to 100% drop-in renewable diesel and jet fuel, and renewable naphtha for about $0.40/gallon in operational cost at 3500 BBL/day scale.  We are still looking at about $1/annual production gallon in CAPEX for ISBL components.  5000 BBL/day for a facility equates to $70M in ISBL capex.”

More about Blue Sun

It’s a second step forward in just a few quick months for Blue Sun. We reported on their efforts in taking enzymantic biodiesel through to scale earlier this year, reporting:

Blue Sun Biodiesel, at their 30 million gallon per year facility, is announcing this week that they think they have licked the problem of enzymatic biodiesel at world-class scale — which promises to open up a whole new range of lower-cost feedstocks for America’s favorite advanced biofuel.

Reactions from the Partners

“Operation of the demonstration system is critical in terms of scaling the process and technology and garnering the insights and experience needed to begin construction on our first commercial facility, which will truly be a landmark for the emerging next-generation biofuels industry,” said Leigh Freeman, CEO of Blue Sun.

“This is a key milestone toward commercial scale production, with initial results showing comparable system performance in the scale-up from our 4 barrel/day pilot system in Panama City to the 100 BBL/day demonstration system in St Joseph,” said Rob Sues, CEO of ARA.

“We are enthusiastic about the early success that Blue Sun, Chevron Lummus Global, and ARA have achieved at the demonstration facility in St. Joseph. Production of completely fungible jet and diesel fuels from renewable industrial oils and waste oils is a game changer,” said Leon DeBruyn, Managing Director of Chevron Lummus Global.

The Bottom Line

This is a big step forward for all the partners — ARA, CLG, Blue Sun — and a potential big step forward for Agrisoma. Aemetis is in the wings as a system licensee, as well. This could be exciting days for aviation biofuels.

This article was originally published on Biofuels Digest and was republished with permission.

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