Total and Amyris working on jet fuel from GM yeasts using sugarcane – demo flight at Paris Air Show
Date added: June 21, 2013
In France, Amyris and Total announced a demonstration flight (from Toulouse to Paris) of an A321 at the Paris Air Show using its renewable jet fuel made from Amyris Biofene from plant sugars. This is a French Initiative for Future Aviation Fuels, which seeks to produce and commercialize alternative, allegedly renewable and sustainable aviation fuels in France. There was an earlier flight using this fuel in June 2012, in Brazil. Amyris is using genetically-modified yeasts which metabolise sugars from sugarcane or sweet sorghum for the process, which produces a broad range of molecules via Biofene. Cellulosic sugars are what they want to use in future, but for now, Amyris is focused on cane sugar. (ie. competing with human food). There is evidence that the cost of oil-based jet fuel is rising faster than the cost of sugar. If there is margin of around 24 US cents per gallon between the cost of the sugar feedstock and the fuel it might be profitable to use sugar. They are hoping this will continue in future. In December 2012, Amyris began commercial production of Biofene at its industrial-scale production facility in southeastern Brazil. Amyris and Total expect the fuel might be commercially available by 2014.
Landmark flight for sugar-based renewable jet fuel — what’s the future?
As the technology and downstream market matures, the big question is feedstock costs. And they’re trending nicely.
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.
Sugar vs jet fuel prices since 2003
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.
Amyris-Total renewable jet fuel, and biofene
The Amyris-Total renewable fuel was produced using engineered microorganisms that convert plant sugars into Biofene, Amyris’s brand of renewable farnesene, a long-chain, branched hydrocarbon.
In December 2012, Amyris began commercial production of Biofene at its industrial-scale production facility in southeastern Brazil. Amyris and Total expect the fuel to be commercially available as early as 2014, following approval by the ASTM International, the world’s leading fuel standard setting body.
The story goes back to 2009, from the point of view of test flights, when Embraer and General Electric announced that they would conduct a test flight using renewable jet fuel produced from sugar cane by Amyris Biotechnologies. The ERJ-190/-195 test flight was operated by Azul Linhas Aereas, using sugarcane as a feedstock.
“That initiative has the enthusiastic support of Azul’s founder and CEO David Neeleman and the Brazilian Government,” said Tom Casey of ACA Associates at the time, “especially as the demonstration involves an Embraer commercial airplane, flying with a Brazilian airline and using a Brazil-sourced bio jet fuel from sugarcane feedstock.” Next steps for Total and Amyris
As a result of the continued success of Amyris’s existing technology collaboration with Total, the two parties intend to form a joint venture company by mid-2013 to market renewable diesel, jet fuel, and other specialty products derived from Biofene, Amyris’s renewable brand of farnesene.
Last August, Total reaffirmed its commitment to Amyris’s technology and dedicated its $82 million funding budget over the next three years exclusively for the deployment of Biofene, Amyris’s renewable farnesene, for production of renewable diesel and jet fuel. Total’s commitment includes a $30 million payment to Amyris in 2012.
Total and Renewable Fuels
The Total Group holds a 66% stake in SunPower, a world leader in solar energy, and an 18.5% stake in Amyris, an integrated renewable products company. Additionally, Total is actively engaged in a number of renewable R&D projects, such as solar and biomass.
In today’s Digest, we look in-depth at reaction from the partners, plus a networking and knowledge-sharing opportunity with Amyris CEO John Melo via the page links below. Reaction from the partners
“This is a significant milestone in our strategic partnership with Total for biofuels. From developing the world’s leading synthetic biology platform to producing and distributing renewable products globally, the Amyris-Total collaboration demonstrates the power of partnerships to drive innovation and deliver sustainable products,” said John Melo, President & CEO of Amyris. “Today’s flight is another step closer in achieving ASTM certification, which paves the way for the commercialization of our renewable jet fuel,” Melo concluded.
“The air transport sector has an ambitious target: drastically reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 while commercial flights and demand for jet fuel will steadily grow. To that end, biofuels will play an important role along with improved aircraft energy efficiency. This demonstration flight illustrates the capacity of Amyris and Total to integrate, as of today, aeronautical biofuels in a concrete and reliable way,” said Philippe Boisseau, President, Marketing & Services and New Energies and a member of the Executive Committee of Total. “As one of the world’s biggest suppliers of aviation fuel, Total aims at widely offering this solution to airline customers. We are confident that we will be able to achieve this within the coming years.”
In the Digest mailbag, we’ve been getting a fair amount of feedback to our coverage of Amyris’s advances in renewable jet fuel.
In our article, we pointed out the growing gap between the price of sugar and jet fuel over the past ten years — giving credence to the use of sugar as a feedstock for fuel production.
Some of our more astute readers ask, calculators in hand, how is it going to be ever economically possible to make jet fuel from Amyris biofene?
One reader writes:
“Theoretical yield for farnesene from sugar (glucose) is about 30% by weight (compared to 51% for ethanol, which is a much shorter-chain molecule than farnesene or other fuel-grade oils). However, actual yields will typically be on the order of <50% of that, so probably more like 15% (0.15 g farnesene/ g sugar) or even less.
“From there the math makes it fairly easy to calculate the cost of a gallon of “jet fuel” or “diesel” from any cost of sugar (using a density like ethanol of about 3 kg/gal). In addition, farnesene is not the final molecule — farnesane is — which means Amyris will need to use a source of hydrogen to hydrogenate farnesene, further adding to the cost.
“At an actual yield of 20% (giving them the benefit of the doubt), it would take 5 lbs of sugar to make 1 lb of jet fuel. So using your number of $0.17/lb for sugar, the cost of farnesene would be 5*0.17 or approximately $1/lb just for raw material (forgetting the need for H2 and of course all other raws and capex) – which is more than 2x the market value of jet fuel, which you put at ~$0.40/lb.”
It’s an interesting question — and frankly beyond the Digest staff’s abilities with a calculator — so we asked Joel Velasco at Amyris for some help.
“We don’t disclose current yields. But as we describe in at least one of our patents (See here.) the max theoretical yield for our Farnesene strains is about 30%.
“We have always offered the figure of about 3 kilos of sugar for a liter of farnesane (jet fuel/diesel) for our analysis of target production.
“So, at current sugarcane TRS pricing in Brazil (R$ 0.44/TRS kg according to public market data, here), the feedstock cost of producing a liter of fene at these targets (and R$/$ exchange rate) would be about $0.61 per liter or $2.35 per gallon.”
Now, that’s just feedstock costs using current local prices in Brazil, and not the sale price of fuel, but it does continue to add credence to the concept that — so long as the cost of the underlying sugars continues to trend south of rising priceline of jet fuel — there are reasons to continue to be optimistic regarding renewable jet fuels made via the Amyris process.
Sugar-based biofuel flight on 19th June, to coincide with Rio+20, purporting to be “sustainable”
4.6.2012Here’s a depressing story. Using jet fuel derived from sugarcane, and therefore not separate from food production, Azul Brazilian Airlines will put on a flight on 19th June. They say how desirable using sugarcane is for jet fuel, as it “can be produced sustainably in large-scale quantities in Brazil and other tropical countries.” And that jet fuel from sugarcane has “emission reduction potential”. This flight, to coincide with Rio+20 is just greenwash, and the industry capitalising on a marketing opportunity for a form of fuel is actually not sustainable, and that competes with land that could and should be used for food production.
26.10.2011 (Reuters)Boeing Co and its Brazilian counterpart Embraer have joined forces with Brazilian Fapesp, to map out how best to expand the use of biofuels for jet engines from renewable sources such as sugar cane. They are aware of criticisms about biofuel not helping with global warming. They say they don’t want feedstocks that are also food crops. A 9-month study will look at the potential feedstocks and their large-scale commercial challenges and advantages.
Funding secured for Brazilian research study into the sustainability of renewable jet fuel sourced from sugarcane
15.8.2011 (Green Air Online) The IDB will finance for “renewable” jet fuel projects in Latin America and the Caribbean and along with aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Embraer the IDB will fund a sustainability analysis of producing jet fuel from Brazilian sugarcane.
The study will evaluate environmental and market conditions for and will be independently reviewed and advised by the WWF. It will include indirect land-use effects. Sugar-derived jet biofuels were not included in the recent ASTM certification process