British Airways partners with Solena to build Europe's first sustainable biojet fuel production facility
Mon 15 Feb 2010 – British Airways is set to become the first major European airline to use commercial-scale sustainable jet biofuel in its daily operations. In partnership with Washington, DC-based Solena Group, the airline anticipates using 16 million US gallons of biofuels produced annually from a new plant to be sited in east London. The $280 million self-contained plant, which is due to open in 2014, will convert 500,000 tonnes of waste per year when fully operational into enough jet fuel to meet BA’s entire needs, and more, at London City Airport. Under the Letter of Intent, Solena will construct the plant and BA has agreed to take the entire output. BA CEO Willie Walsh said the partnership would help the airline realize its goal of reducing net carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050.
Utilizing Solena’s plasma gasification technology, the facility will convert biomass and organic products derived from municipal waste into clean renewable synthesis gas (BioSynGas), which will then be converted into renewable jet fuel through Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology. Solena Group Chairman and CEO Dr Robert Do told GreenAir Online that the process produced life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 95% compared with traditional jet kerosene. By avoiding sending the waste to landfill sites, there were also savings in the amount of methane released, a GHG considerably more potent than CO2.
As well as the jet biofuel, Do said the carbon-neutral plant will also produce around 9 million gallons of bionaptha, which is used as a blending component in petrol and also as a feedstock for the petrochemicals industry, and 20MW of excess electricity for export to the national grid or converted into steam to be used in a district heating system. The only solid waste product is an inert vitrified slag material, which can be used as an alternative to aggregates used in construction.
BA’s Head of Environment, Jonathon Counsell, pointed out that sustainable jet fuels produced by the Solena FT process had recently been certified by ASTM for commercial use in 50/50 blends with jet kerosene and was hopeful that even higher blends of the biojet fuel would be possible by the time the plant was operational. In the meantime, he said work was continuing on achieving equivalent Def Stan approval for the fuel in the UK.
Counsell was confident that the price BA would pay for the biojet fuel when it comes on-stream would be competitive with jet kerosene, particularly if the carbon premium caused by the airline’s obligations under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) were taken into account.
A report just published by consultants EQ2 said the EU ETS offered a strong financial incentive for the adoption of biojet fuels. Based on the current price for carbon in 2012 – when airlines are due to enter the scheme – and the average cost of jet fuel in 2009, EQ2 estimates every gallon of jet fuel burned would incur carbon costs of an additional $0.21, representing a premium of 12.4% that would not apply to biofuel use.
The new plant also offers savings in landfill taxes that local authorities in the UK are required to pay for the disposal of waste. This is currently £40 ($63) per tonne, rising to £72 ($113) by 2013/14. Based on the 500,000 tonnes of biomass the plant is planning to use each year, this represents a saving of £36 million ($56m) in landfill costs for local authorities, which, along with the promise of 1,200 jobs to be created by the plant, was good news for London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson.
“I welcome this fantastic new ‘carbon lite’ fuel production facility in London,” he said. “City Hall has been working with British Airways and Solena to drive this project forward to help untap the massive potential to generate cleaner, less polluting energy from waste, otherwise destined for landfill. We are working to bring together more organizations in this way to harvest the capital’s rubbish to fuel homes, businesses and even transport.”
Four potential sites in east London have been identified, and BA’s Counsell said it was important the plant was situated as close to London City Airport as possible to minimize the fuel delivery process.
The Solena technology feeds the biomass into a high temperature (5,000 degrees C) gasification reactor powered by a plasma heating system and converts it into a stable BioSynGas, which is then cooled and cleaned in a process that removes any sulphur compounds, chlorides, other volatile metals and acid gas that may be present in order to eliminate emissions. The BioSynGas is then funnelled into FT gas-to-liquid equipment that converts it into clean diesel liquid fuel, which is then upgraded to the final jet fuel.
Solena announced in March 2008 that it was to construct a plant in California in partnership with Rentech to produce commercial-scale aviation grade biofuel. Financing for the estimated $250 million project was to be arranged by Deutsche Bank London.
The plant is expected to have a daily capacity to produce 1,800 barrels of biofuel, comprising of 70% jet fuel and 30% naptha, which roughly equates to 17 million gallons a year of sustainable biofuels – similar, therefore, to the London plant.
However, the California plant is likely to produce military rather than commercial biojet fuel. Dr Do said the requirement of the US Department of Defense mandate on the use of renewable fuels was a strong driver in the US.
For British Airways, a member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, the partnership with Solena is a major step forward in its biojet fuel ambitions, having been frustrated by a lack of sufficiently available sustainable biofuel supplies to undertake a proposed test programme with Rolls-Royce.
“This unique partnership with Solena will pave the way for realizing our ambitious goal of reducing net carbon emissions by 50% by 2050,” commented Willie Walsh, BA’s Chief Executive. “We believe it will lead to the production of a real sustainable alternative to jet kerosene. We are absolutely determined to reduce our impact on climate change and are proud to lead the way on aviation’s environmental initiatives.”