Amyris/Total renewable jet fuel gets ASTM green light as SIP fuels are approved for commercial aviation use
A sugarcane farm in Brazil’s São Paulo state. Sugarcane is one of several plants that can be used to make the newly approved SIP fuel. (photo Tadeu Fessel, UNICA)
Fri 20 Jun 2014 – A committee of fuel technical standards body ASTM International has approved for commercial aviation use a renewable jet fuel developed by French oil and energy giant Total and California-based industrial bioscience company Amyris. The drop-in fuel is derived from the conversion of plant sugars into a hydrocarbon molecule called farnesene, which is then hydrogenated into a farnesane product, and will be permitted in blends of up to 10 per cent with conventional jet kerosene. The two partners announced they will now market the fuel, which will initially be produced in Brazil, to airlines, with Brazilian carrier GOL likely as an early customer. The fuel is the first new technology pathway to be approved by ASTM since renewable jet fuels derived from plant oils and animal fats, known as HEFA fuels, were certified in blends of up to 50 per cent in June 2011.
The new annex to the alternative jet fuel specification D7566 details the fuel properties and criteria necessary to control the manufacture and quality of the new fuel, which is referred to as Synthesized Iso-Paraffinic (SIP) fuel.
The approval is the result of a three-year collaboration between Total and Amyris. The ASTM process involved an end-to-end evaluation programme to verify and ensure the renewable jet fuel product is compatible with aircraft and engine components and systems. The programme, report the partners, included a thorough test of key fuel properties and performance evaluation at scale including multiple engine and flight tests.
The pathway involves a yeast fermentation process fed by sugarcane – or other plant sugars such as sugar beets, sweet sorghum, halophytes and cellulosic sugars – to produce the unsaturated fermentation product farnesene. This then undergoes another conversion process that results in the hydrogenated and saturated compound farnesane, which is used as the Jet A/A1 fuel component.
Fernando Garcia, Senior Director, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Amyris and an ASTM member, said: “Independent analysis indicates the renewable farnesane hydrocarbon produced from sugarcane can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% when compared to conventional Jet A/A1 fuel.”
Amyris has a biorefinery in Brazil’s São Paulo province that is capable of producing up to 50 million litres of farnesene a year and the company has been supplying its renewable diesel product to metropolitan areas in Brazil. Last month, the Brotas biorefinery was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), the first facility in the country to achieve the RSB sustainability standard.
The fuel, says the two companies, meets the strict specifications for jet fuel, and bears favourable properties such as low freeze point, high thermostability and high net heat of combustion.
“With our partner Total, we are paving the way for a new era for the aviation industry by providing a drop-in, low-carbon jet fuel solution that will support the sustainability and environmental goals set by the industry, without compromising performance,” said John Melo, CEO of Amyris. “Achieving conformance to the ASTM D7566 standard in record time is a credit to the disruptive potential of our technology and the commitment of the global aviation industry to support innovative solutions.”
With around 300 customers and 1.5 million aircraft refuellings each year, Total supplies jet fuel or operates at more than 300 airports in over 75 countries worldwide.
“As one of the world’s biggest suppliers of aviation fuel, one of Total’s objectives is to make breakthrough jet solutions widely available to its airline customers, supporting their quest to meet high sustainability objectives,” said Philippe Boisseau, President of Marketing & Services for Total’s New Energies division.
Total and Amyris are already preparing for commercial sales of their renewable jet fuel product to airlines, with Brazil an obvious early market. However, the Amyris/Total renewable jet fuel must still be approved by Brazil’s fuel standards regulator ANP, which has indicated it will include the fuel as an option among the other alternative aviation fuels already allowed in the national specification. This process will involve a public hearing before the ASTM revision can be rubber-stamped.
“The ASTM certification received by Amyris is an important step for GOL to begin regular operations in the near future with renewable fuel in Brazil, consistent with our commitment to use at least 1% biojet blends in our fleet in 2016,” said Pedro Rodrigo Scorza, Director of Technical Operations at GOL Airlines. “This also strengthens the collaboration between our companies, the commitment to a value chain of sustainable fuels, and a bet on Brazil as a continued leader in the biofuels industry, which makes this innovation possible.”
The ASTM approval for the renewable fuel pathway has also been welcomed elsewhere in the aviation industry. Although the pathway will be important in the near term in Brazil, where sugarcane is a widely available and sustainably produced feedstock, said Boeing, in the longer term there will be opportunities to use the method elsewhere, including the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Boeing is involved with the Masdar Institute in the UAE on a project to determine the feasibility of using halophytes, which grow in coastal deserts and can be irrigated with seawater, as a feedstock.
“Boeing collaborates with partners around the world to develop sustainable aviation biofuel to reduce our industry’s carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuel,” said Julie Felgar, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ Managing Director of Environmental Strategy. “Boeing worked closely with Amyris and Total to support approval of this new biofuel pathway and we are delighted it can now be used for commercial flights.”
Added Nancy Young, VP Environmental Affairs for trade association Airlines for America (A4A): “This standard provides another pathway for alternative jet fuel production, and will enable increased commercial production. We commend ASTM International, the US Federal Aviation Administration, the airframe and engine manufacturers, the US military, fuel producers and our entire Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) team for continuing to drive towards commercially viable alternative jet fuels that meet the rigorous criteria set forth under the jet fuel specification.
“The approval of this new alternative jet fuel pathway is significant for all consumers of jet fuel, bringing the airline industry another step closer to widespread production of cleaner, alternative fuels that will help meet our environmental goals while enhancing the security and competitiveness of our energy supply.”
SIP fuels now join two other approved alternative jet fuel pathways – the conversion of triglycerides from plant oils and animal processing waste, referred to as Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA), and the conversion of biomass and fossil fuel feedstocks through the Fischer-Tropsch process. A number of other new pathways are currently undergoing testing and scrutiny by participants in the ASTM standards process.