Developments of “sustainable” jet fuels continue ponderously, hoping to ramp up supply

In a thorough over-view of current progress by various airlines and biofuel companies across the world, GreenAir Online goes through the main initiatives. In London, it is possible that the British Airways and Solena plant, to make jet fuel from London’s rubbish, might start to be built in 2015, though a site has not yet been announced.  KLM is hoping to do flights from Amsterdam starting in May using biofuels produced by the ITAKA consortium – a Europe-wide collaboration of interests involving Airbus, Embraer, Neste Oil, SkyNRG, Manchester Metropolitan University and others.  This was intended to use camelina grown in Spain as the main source of biomass for the fuel but this has proved “challenging”. Used cooking oil is therefore likely to be the source of the fuel for the May flights. There are initiatives in the Middle East with Etihad working with Boeing, Honeywell UOP, Safran and the Masdar Institute.  In Abu Dhabi, there is an initiative developing the Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (ISEAS) that grows salt-water tolerant Salicornia halophyte plants for use as biomass to produce fuels. And there are others – still expensive, still experimental, still not actually “green” or “sustainable.”


Development of sustainable jet fuels moves towards next phase of new technology pathways and ramping up supply

21 Mar 2014 (GreenAir online)

The early excitement of demonstration flights and subsequent approvals for the use of some types of biofuel blends on passenger flights has given way to the less headline-grabbing ‘hard yards’ of establishing supply chains to provide airlines with cost-competitive and sustainable fuels.

New technology pathways are expected to be certified for commercial aviation use within the next year that will see innovative synthetic jet fuels reach the market. The recent disclosure that green diesel may become a blending source for jet fuel is another important step.

The challenge now is to move beyond one-off projects towards a continuous supply of jet biofuels using standard fuel logistics at airports. The recent Bio Jet Fuel conference at the World Bio Markets in Amsterdam brought together the aviation and biofuel sectors to discuss progress.  

GreenAir reports from the event on the latest developments in Europe and further afield.

According to British Airways’ Head of Environment, Jonathon Counsell, a 20-acre (8ha) site in east London has been selected for its GreenSky project with Solena and an announcement is expected within weeks. Getting the required planning permission had proved “extremely challenging,” he said.

GreenSky will convert around 600,000 tonnes of [London’s?]  municipal waste into 50,000 tonnes of biojet and 50,000 tonnes of biodiesel annually, and will meet BA’s total fuel needs at London City Airport.

“We are doing this to help reduce our carbon emissions, not to get a source of cheap fuel,” said Counsell, who expects annual savings of up to 145,000 tonnes of CO2. “It’s very much a demonstration plant for us. If we can prove this works commercially then we will build a number of them in the UK – potentially up to six – at this scale or even bigger.

“The economics is driven by a current UK landfill tax of about £80 per tonne.  Within a 25-mile radius of the proposed plant there is some 10 million tonnes of available municipal waste. We do not want to pay a premium for this fuel so there are financial instruments built into the agreement to protect us from any price risk.”

Under its 10-year contract with Solena, BA will purchase all the fuel – worth $500 million at today’s prices – produced by the plant. “This has been critical to attracting investors,” said Counsell. “The downside is the significant capital investment, around $500 million. To de-risk the project it also requires world-class partners.”

The upside of the technology, he said, were GHG life-cycle savings of up to 95%, methane savings and no ILUC (indirect land use change) issues.

Construction is to start by early next year [2015] that will take two years, with production starting in 2017, forecasts Counsell. Around 1,000 construction jobs and 200 operational roles are envisaged.

Counsell was critical of a lack of interest by the UK government over aviation biofuels. “It is apparent to us that some governments are very supportive of their aviation industry and others are less,” he said. “What we need from our government is regulatory support and a level playing field with biodiesel.”

Artist’s impression of GreenSky plant:

Linden Coppell, Head of Sustainability at Etihad Airways, reported encouraging findings from the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium in which the airline is partnering with Boeing, Honeywell UOP, Safran and the Masdar Institute. In Abu Dhabi, the initiative is developing the Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (ISEAS) that grows salt-water tolerant Salicornia halophyte plants for use as biomass to produce sustainable fuels.

Research findings have shown they have low lignin and high sugar content and so are easier to process into biofuel than other feedstocks. As well as sustainable aviation biofuel and other fuels, they show potential for the production of high value bio-based chemicals. Since 97% of the planet’s water is in the seas and about 20% of its land mass is desert, she said the concept could be applied to many arid regions of the world.

Another local project, BIOjet Abu Dhabi, involving Boeing, Etihad, Masdar and various oil refining interests, was launched recently and a roadmap initiative to drive a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in the emirate is to commence next month, reported Coppell.

Ignaas Caryn, Innovation and Corporate Venturing Director for KLM, said it was important to reach the next stage in the development of aviation biofuels, namely the constant supply of such fuels and developing the entire supply chain for their production at a price competitive with their fossil equivalent.

He reported that KLM will be undertaking flights from Amsterdam starting in May using biofuels produced by the ITAKA consortium – a Europe-wide collaboration of interests coordinated by Spanish government aeronautical organisation Senasa and involving Airbus, Embraer, Neste Oil, SkyNRG, Manchester Metropolitan University and others. This is the first major aviation biofuel supply chain to be undertaken in Europe.

KLM signed an offtake agreement with ITAKA in late 2012. The basis of the project was to use camelina grown in Spain as the main source of biomass for the fuel but Caryn reported that this has proved “challenging” in the early stages, due partly to bad weather in the growing season and also farming inexperience when scaling up production of the feedstock. Used cooking oil based biofuel is therefore the likely source for the May flights. A second batch of ITAKA fuel is expected to be available by the end of this year when, he hopes, “lessons will have been learned”. Demonstrating the supply chain works and is continuous will be crucial, he added.

Further afield, KLM is in a partnership with the Brazilian Biojetfuel Platform alongside airline GOL. The initiative aims to establish a sustainable jet fuel industry in the country with research and development activity in several regions of the country.

KLM is also involved in the BioPort Holland supply chain initiative that brings together SkyNRG, Neste Oil, Schiphol Group, Port of Amsterdam and the Dutch government. Caryn said it would pave the way for more bioports in different regions of the world. During the World Bio Markets event, BioPort Holland was presented with the Sustainable Bio ‘Collaboration of the Year’ award.

Also during the event, sustainable aviation biofuel supplier SkyNRG, which has championed the bioport concept, announced a long-term cooperation agreement with Norway’s Statoil Aviation, the leading aviation fuel supplier in Northern Europe, to supply jet biofuel through a bioport in the region.

“We foresee that working with SkyNRG will accelerate our strong ambitions to supply the Nordic countries with significant quantities of sustainable jet fuel,” said Thorbjörn Larsson, Vice President of Statoil Aviation. “We want to ensure we can meet the short and long term future demand from customers, airports and authorities.”

In the short term, there is an acceptance by the two parties that the fuel will have a cost premium but, said SkyNRG CEO Dirk Kronemeijer, the aim is to accelerate supply and demand for sustainable jet fuel that is also affordable. The first projects in the Nordic region are expected to be announced soon.

The Lufthansa burnFAIR project involving around 1,200 commercial flights using biofuel blends between Frankfurt and Hamburg along with research into various production pathways finished at the end of 2013, reported Alexander Zschocke, the airline’s Aviation Biofuel Project Manager. A German-language final report with key results is due out in May, he said, and will be made available to any interested party.

Echoing KLM’s Caryn, he believed it was now time to move towards the use of biofuels as part of routine operations involving standard fuel logistics. This will be trialled for the first time this year as part of the ITAKA project and is expected to become operational practice at Los Angeles International Airport in 2016.

However, one issue that arose during the burnFAIR project, revealed Zschocke, was the variance in properties found in different samples of conventional jet kerosene, which has implications for biofuel blending.

To date, only HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) and Fischer-Tropsch derived fuels have been ASTM approved for commercial aviation use in blends of up to 50%. The next fuel to be approved – by the middle of this year, understands Zschocke – is farnesane, a plant or cellulosic sugar-based biofuel developed by US company Amyris in cooperation with French oil giant Total. The fuel is expected to be blended with conventional jet kerosene at a maximum ratio of 10%. Although some synthetic fuels awaiting ASTM approval will require no blending with conventional kerosene, these are some way off into the future, he said.

“For the time being, consideration of blending requirements is therefore indispensable when setting up a bio-kerosene supply chain,” he said. “Blending is key. The process itself is not rocket science – the issue is the properties of the conventional kerosene.”

Blended fuels must meet the same specification requirements as conventional kerosene plus some additional ones, he said, particularly concerning fuel density and aromatics content. “What we didn’t realise was how little is known generally about the properties of conventional kerosene and statistical data is almost non-existent.”

So Lufthansa went to airports throughout Germany to ask for certificates for fuel deliveries over a one-year period. “We took some key parameters that were relevant from a blending and emissions perspective and found some wide differences,” reported Zschocke. “For example aromatics content, which is specified at a minimum 8.4% for synthetic fuels, ranged from 5.9% to 25.5%, so even using a drop of this fuel would render it out of spec even though it is being used in Germany without any problems.”

The sampling found, in the main, that kerosene produced by German refineries had low aromatics content compared to imported fuel. However, the imported fuel was found to have a higher content of sulphur, which has negative environmental impacts. “There are therefore side effects which have to be taken into account,” warned Zschocke.

Lufthansa is now coordinating a blending study with the German Armed Forces Research Institute for Materials, Fuels and Lubricants (WIWeB) that is being financed by the European Commission as part of the European Flightpath 2020 aviation biofuel initiative. The study, which is conducting laboratory analysis of blending behaviour on a range of synthetic fuels, will conclude in the second half of this year and a report is to be published by the Commission.

Zschocke also revealed that aireg, the German aviation biofuel association, is to cooperate with its US counterpart CAAFI in efforts to streamline ASTM certification for new technology pathways. He said the number of pathways awaiting approval was “piling up” and putting pressure on engine manufacturers because of the amount of analysis and time required for testing the fuel from each pathway. “We need to improve and speed up the process,” he said.

Virpi Kröger, Manager of Renewable Aviation Fuel for Finnish company Neste Oil, advised the aviation industry to start with biofuel blends as low as 2% initially as this would significantly lower the price premium to around just 3% higher than conventional jet kerosene at today’s prices. A 2% blend would provide easier access to around one million tonnes of renewable fuel at an EU level and would also encourage investment in production, she suggested.

Willemijn van der Werf, Global Sustainability Director of LanzaTech, reported the company’s alcohol-to-jet fuel process is likely to be certified for commercial airline use within the next 12 months. Its Shougang bioethanol demonstration plant in China was granted sustainability certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) last October. A more recent life-cycle analysis study by sustainable energy consultancy E4Tech concluded the LanzaTech bioethanol achieved a 76.6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over fossil fuel.

The recent disclosure (see article) by Boeing that green diesel, also known as renewable diesel, could prove a potential source of jet biofuel was described by the company’s Sustainable Biofuel Strategy Director, Darrin Morgan, as “a very substantial new development.”

He said green diesel had been found to be close enough in jet fuel properties to HEFA fuels and could work as a blending stock. However, because it did not quite meet freeze point requirements, it could only be used in lower blends but otherwise would likely meet or exceed HEFA specifications. He said support from the US FAA and aircraft and engine OEMs, which are central to the ASTM approval process, had been positive.

Morgan revealed testing of the fuel, including by the FAA, was currently underway and a research report would be released “in the not too distant future”. He said the fuel had already undergone nine months of “diligent” analysis and expected the fuel to be balloted by the relevant ASTM committee within a year.

“As an OEM, we have been hearing from many people that it’s difficult to go through all the hurdles to make jet biofuels,” he said. “This is us doing the job of making it easier to get into our market. It’s not easy to get a consensus on a new jet fuel specification but we, along with the US government, the FAA and other OEMs, are putting our shoulders into it. This can lower the barrier to entry significantly.”

There are currently around four biorefineries in the world producing upwards of 800 million gallons of green diesel. Increasing that to one billion gallons would represent around 1.5% of global demand if all green diesel was, hypothetically, to be used for jet fuel, said Morgan.

“It would be a significant milestone if we can get biofuels to 1% of the total jet fuel demand, especially from where we were just five years ago.”

Next year’s World Bio Markets will be held again in Amsterdam from March 10 to 12, 2015.


World Bio Markets 2014