Avianca and Lufthansa team up with US next-gen biofuel companies to support alcohol-to-jet fuel approval
An Avianca Brasil Airbus A319 will flight test Byogy's ATJ fuel
Fri 9 May 2014 – Avianca Brasil and Lufthansa have respectively agreed partnerships with Byogy Renewables and Gevo to test, evaluate and support the approval of alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) renewable fuels for commercial aviation use. Jet biofuels certified so far by fuel standards body ASTM International are restricted to no higher than a 50 per cent blend with conventional jet kerosene but Byogy claims its proprietary ATJ process can produce a full replacement standalone fuel that does not require blending. Avianca will perform advanced flight testing to acquire test data and support an environmental impact study in the ASTM adoption process. Lufthansa will evaluate and test Gevo’s renewable jet fuel derived from isobutanol under a project supported by the European Commission. Another US advanced biofuel company developing renewable jet fuel, Amyris, has just received RSB sustainability certification.
Byogy says that by leveraging existing and abundant sugar cane feedstocks used to produce ethanol rather than waiting much longer for other agriculture feedstock industries to prove cost-effective will help Avianca meet long-term aviation industry carbon reduction goals.
“We believe that the increase in aviation demand will show the only way to achieve the carbon reduction mandate set out by ICAO is to use high-blend ratios of renewable aviation fuel,” said Kevin Weiss, CEO of California-based Byogy.
By making the most of existing global stocks of ethanol, the company says it is not limited to its own ability to produce alcohol and hence not subject to the scale-up risks associated with novel biological organisms. Instead, it maintains, its petrochemical process can capitalise on global efforts that are driving down ethanol production costs.
“At some point, we will wake up from this ethanol hangover and realise that it is more important to use alcohols to produce full replacement renewable aviation fuels than it is to push higher blends of alcohols into an infrastructure that cannot support it,” added Weiss.
He said the goal with the Avianca initiative was first to support the approval in accordance with the current ASTM regulations limiting blends to 50%. “And then, after gaining appropriate experience testing data, work with the ASTM stakeholders to study the potential use of higher blend ratios that will in turn drive the highest level of carbon reduction possible of any renewable fuel.”
The airline will use a CFM56-powered Airbus A319 for the flight testing. “Avianca is fully committed to supporting the Byogy ATJ fuel approval process and believes it is the best solution for Avianca to achieve carbon neutrality for its operations in Brazil,” said Captain Norberto Raniero, the carrier’s Vice President of Operations.
Under its patented 'capital-light' business model, Colorado-based Gevo converts existing ethanol plants into biorefineries to make isobutanol using fermented plant waste from a range of sources.
“By using isobutanol as a renewable raw material for producing jet fuel, the resulting jet fuel has the mixtures of molecules typical of petro-based jet fuel, making it directly compatible with engines and infrastructure,” said the company’s CEO, Patrick Gruber. “We greatly appreciate Lufthansa’s and the European Commission’s support of this effort. Through initiatives like this, the commercial airlines are seeking to prove out ATJ and move it towards commercialisation.
“ATJ from Gevo’s isobutanol is a clean burning, home-grown, drop-in jet fuel, and we have a potential route to deliver aviation biofuels at scale and at a competitive cost.”
Lufthansa is 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 includes laboratory analysis of blending behaviour on a range of synthetic fuels, now extended to include Gevo’s, and is due to conclude in the second half of this year with a following report to be published by the Commission.
“ATJ, like the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) pathway, has the potential to use lignocellulosic waste as feedstock, but promises to do so at less cost than FT,” said Alexander Zschocke, Lufthansa Group Senior Manager Aviation Biofuels.
The technology developed by Amyris converts plant sugars into a variety of molecules that can be used to produce a range of sustainable alternatives to petroleum-sourced products. The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) sustainability certification covers farnesene, which is produced from Brazilian sugarcane feedstock at the Amyris biorefinery in Brotas, São Paulo state. Farnesene is a liquid, long-chain, branched renewable hydrocarbon that serves as a precursor in many applications, including high-performance fuels.
French oil giant Total and Amyris have partnered to bring a renewable jet fuel to market as early as this year, pending ASTM approval.
“RSB’s certification is a demonstration of the shared commitment we have to the aviation industry to deliver solutions that address a key pillar of its 2050 vision, namely sustainable technology to power the industry. Our renewable fuels have the potential to combat emissions while providing increased performance,” said Jean-Marc Otero del Val, Deputy Senior VP New Energies, Total.