Canada joins the renewable jet fuel race as Rentech looks to open major forest waste biomass project
Forestry in Northern Ontario
Tue 17 May 2011 – Reputed to be the birthplace of the bear cub that inspired AA Milne’s book Winnie the Pooh, the township of White River in northwest Ontario is set to become the home of Canada’s first major jet biofuel facility. The Ontario government has selected US renewable fuels company Rentech to receive waste biomass from its Crown forests for production of renewable jet fuel at the company’s proposed Olympiad Project in White River. The project is being designed to produce around 85 million litres (23 million gallons) annually of renewable and certified low-carbon RenJet fuel, and is scheduled to be in service in 2015. In December 2009, Rentech signed an offtake agreement with around 13 major airlines for future supplies of alternative aviation fuel. The company also supplied quantities of its synthetic jet fuel for a validation flight carried out by United Airlines in April 2010, and its technology is set to be utilised in the Solena/British Airways municipal waste-to-jet fuel plant in the UK.
The proposed wood allocation, composed primarily of forest waste and unmerchantable species, is the largest ever awarded under the Provincial Wood Supply Competitive Process (PWSCP) administered by the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry. It is expected to supply the Olympiad Project over the long term with up to 1.1 million cubic metres per year of wood fibre and could bring much-needed employment to a region that has suffered significant job losses in recent years and revitalise a struggling forestry sector.
The Ministry selected the Rentech bid as the best proposed use of its available timber but is still a first step in the process before making the wood supply available. In the meantime, Rentech is seeking funding for the project and says it has been working closely over the past year with Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), which has a C$500 million (US$512m) NextGen Biofuels Fund. The company has recently submitted an application for funding that can cover up to 40%, to a maximum of C$200 million, of eligible project development and construction costs, which would be repaid from a percentage of the project’s cash flows.
“Having our project selected in the PWSCP for a proposed large, sustainable feedstock supply from the Ontario government is a significant achievement and a step forward,” said Rentech President and CEO D. Hunt Ramsbottom. “We will be working closely with SDTC, First Nations and other partners to secure project financing. SDTC’s funding opportunity played a key role in Rentech’s decision to pursue a large-scale renewable energy facility in Northern Ontario. We are encouraged by the Government of Canada’s commitment to commercialising renewable energy projects.”
In a move to forge links with the local indigenous Aboriginal community, Rentech has agreed to offer the Pic River First Nation an 18% equity interest in the project, which is expected to create significant opportunities through job creation and advanced skills training. Other Aboriginal communities, such as the Pic Mobert First Nation, are likely to benefit as well. (Around 1.3% of Ontario’s 12 million inhabitants are recognised as Status Indians by the Canadian government, with around half living on reserves belonging to the province’s 127 First Nations. ‘Aboriginal peoples’ is a collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. The Canadian constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people: Indians (commonly referred to as First Nations), Métis and Inuit.)
The project is expected to employ 83 full-time employees and create over 300 indirect positions, and during peak construction involve up to 1,000 workers.
In addition to the 85 million litres of jet fuel, Olympiad will also produce 43 million litres (13 million gallons) annually of renewable naphtha, a chemical feedstock. Together, Rentech estimates the CO2 savings from the renewable jet fuel and naphtha to amount to around 600,000 tonnes per year.
As well as lower amounts of particulates, NOx and SOx, Rentech claims the lifecycle CO2 emissions of its RenJet are significantly below those of petroleum-based jet fuel. The company also says the lower density of its fuel could enable aircraft to have a lower take-off weight, thereby conserving fuel and lowering operating costs.
The Olympiad Project would employ the Rentech-ClearFuels biomass gasification system and the Rentech Fischer-Tropsch Process to turn the wood waste into jet fuel.