Thu 12 Jan 2017 – The commercialisation of alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel in the United States has taken a step forward with awards from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) towards the development of two demonstration-scale facilities. As part of the DOE’s first-phase federal funding of six projects in total, LanzaTech will receive $4 million to design and plan a demo facility using industrial off gases to produce low-carbon jet and diesel fuels. The second award of $3.7 million has been made to Georgia-based AVAPCO to help develop a demo-scale integrated biorefinery that combines the company’s biomass-to-ethanol process with project partner Byogy’s ATJ technology to produce renewable jet fuel from woody biomass. The two projects are expected to match at least half of the DOE funding and, depending on their progress, continuation to the second phase could each attract further funding of up to $45 million in fiscal year 2018 towards construction of the facilities.
“Economics and sustainability are key to realising the potential of alternative aviation fuels,” said Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech CEO, commenting on the award. “Jet fuel accounts for as much as 40% of an airline’s operating costs and the sector has made substantial commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions by 2025. So fuels must address both of these needs to succeed at commercial scale. Thanks to the DOE, the partners in this project will accelerate the commercial production of low-cost, low-carbon jet, gasoline and diesel in the United States.”
Outside the US, LanzaTech is currently building its first two commercial ethanol facilities using waste gases. In China it is partnering with the country’s largest steel company, Shougang, and in Belgium with ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel manufacturer. LanzaTech will work with ArcelorMittal on the DOE-funded US project, which is expected to produce up to 3 million gallons per year of jet and diesel fuels by 2020.
Under the LanzaTech process, the waste gases from steel manufacturing, which would otherwise be flared, are recycled to produce a low-cost ethanol intermediate, Lanzanol. In the US project, both Lanzanol and cellulosic ethanol will then be converted to jet fuel via the ATJ process developed by LanzaTech and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).
“The ability to produce tightly-specified aviation fuel or, alternatively, high-cetane diesel is a unique feature of this technology that will enhance its competitiveness in US as well as global markets,” said Suresh Baskaran, Chief Science and Technology Officer for PNNL’s Energy and Environment Directorate.
The technology was initially developed with DOE funding by PNNL and subsequently scaled up by LanzaTech to produce 4,000 gallons of sustainable jet fuel from Lanzanol and other ethanol sources for fuel quality testing and ASTM approval purposes, plus a proving flight with airline partner Virgin Atlantic that is yet to take place.
To date, a complete set of specification and fit for purpose data has been collected in collaboration with the Air Force Research Lab and Southwest Research Institute. LanzaTech’s Freya Burton said a research report was submitted last year and aviation OEMs are currently reviewing the data to decide the next step in the fuel evaluation process for eventual revision of the ASTM D7566 Annex 5 to include ethanol as a feedstock.
To demonstrate process versatility on the US project, reports the company, ethanol from other waste gas streams will be converted, including Californian agricultural residue-derived cellulosic ethanol produced via fermentation of biomass syngas by industrial biotechnology company Aemetis. Illinois-based Ambitech will be LanzaTech’s engineering partner, with an additional engineering contribution from Aemetis.
Other project partners include technology providers Petron Scientech, CRI Catalyst Company, Nexceris and Gardner Denver Nash; Michigan Technological University, which will be evaluating the environmental footprint of the fuels being produced; and Audi, which will evaluate diesel and gasoline fuel properties.
In addition, the project has received support from Airlines for America (A4A) and the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI).
“We are excited to see this demonstration-scale effort moving forward, and laud BETO’s selection of LanzaTech and their unique technology for this award,” commented CAAFI Executive Director Steve Csonka. “The aviation enterprise remains committed to the use of competitively-priced sustainable alternative jet fuel, and we look forward to continuing to work with LanzaTech on several ongoing efforts that we believe can lead to near-term, full-scale commercialisation.”
Last week, BETO and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released a Funding Opportunity Announcement to support research and development of ‘Integrated Biorefinery (IBR) Optimization’. Funding of up to $22.7 million is being made available to address the financial and technical challenges involved in IBR scale up.
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