In France, Amyris and Total announced a successful demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show its renewable jet fuel made from Amyris Biofene and, ultimately, from plant sugars.
The Airbus A321 aircraft powered by two Snecma CFM56 jet engines flew from Toulouse to Paris with a blend of renewable jet fuel produced by Amyris and Total. This demonstration flight was in support of the French Initiative for Future Aviation Fuels, which seeks to produce and commercialize alternative, renewable and sustainable aviation fuels in France in the coming years.
This was the second public demonstration flight with the Amyris-Total renewable jet fuel. In June 2012, an Embraer E195 jet flew with the renewable jet fuel produced from sugarcane in Brazil.
Yep, You’re Flying on Sugar — by Way of Farnesene
Amyris has developed genetic engineering technologies that enable modification of the way microbes process (i.e., metabolize) sugar. By controlling these metabolic pathways, Amyris is able to design microbes, primarily yeast, to be tiny living factories that convert plant-sourced sugars from crops such as sugarcane or sweet sorghum into target molecules. Using its industrial synthetic biology platform, Amyris develops yeast strains designed to produce a broad range of molecules.
Farnese being formed from sugar via genetically-modified yeast
The first molecule that Amyris is focusing on is Biofene, Amyris-brand farnesene, a hydrocarbon building block that can replace petrochemicals in a wide variety of products in the cosmetics, flavors and fragrances, consumer product, polymers, lubricants and fuel markets.
Can Sugar Work as a Renewable Jet Fuel Stock – On the Economics?
Now that the technology is proven, and Amyris and Total are committed to a joint venture in renewable diesel and jet fuel that will include commercial-scale facilities, the remaining big question is the sourcing of sustainable, available, reliable, affordable tonnages of sugar.
Cellulosic sugars are on the way — but for now, Amyris is focused on cane sugar. There. there’s a decent body of evidence, over the past ten years, that the cost of oil-based jet fuel is rising faster than the cost of sugar.
Here’s the tale of the tape.
Ten years ago in spring 2003, jet fuel was selling at 10.60 cents per pound and sugar was selling at 7.01 cents per pound. Not much margin there for the large capex and opex associated with turning sugar into jet fuel. Just 3.59 cents per pound, or 24 cents per gallon in margin between the feedstock and the fuel. Even amortized over 15 years, the project would have been unlikely to cover the capital costs — much less the opex of running a large operation.
But look at today. Jet fuel is selling at 40.75 cents per pound, and sugar at 17.08 cents. The spread has grown more than six times, to 23.67 cents per pound, or $1.58 per gallon. Allowing for, say, a capital cost of $8-$10 per gallon of installed capacity, amortized over 15 years there is meaningful spread still left over to cover operating costs and margin.
But consider the trend — a spread that’s grown 6X over 10 years — and you might consider that sugar could well provide an excellent long-term hedge against rising oil-based jet fuel prices.