‘Link globally, think locally’ is key to building successful sustainable aviation fuel supply chains, says industry expert
Fri 23 May 2014 – State and local initiatives in the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Brazil and other countries around the world are crucial to the successful deployment of sustainable alternative jet fuels, says Richard Altman, Executive Director Emeritus of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI). These initiatives are beginning to produce significant results, he told a panel session held during this week’s ILA Air Show in Berlin. The message of ‘link globally, think locally’ was key to building the breadth of biofuel activity needed by the aviation industry to reach its 2020 carbon-neutral growth goal, he said. With a host of new alternative fuel pathways and technologies awaiting certification, he argued it was critical that deployment be initiated in multiple geographic locations during the next few years to help meet the goal.
Altman is enthusiastic about the progress made by the ‘Farm to Fly’ programme introduced by the US Department of Agriculture in October 2010 and extended in April 2013 for a further five years. The public-private initiative is aimed at helping develop a mainstream US biofuel industry that is capable of producing about 1 billion gallons of drop-in aviation biofuel by 2018. Assisting rural and farming communities by providing jobs and opportunities is another driving force.
‘Farm to Fly’ is now engaging with all regions of the United States, said Altman (see diagram below). “It’s not farm versus flight or feed versus fuel,” he explained. “It’s a question of whether you can have an economically profitable farming community. For example, in Florida the citrus industry has suffered a terrible insect infestation that has killed off 25% of the crop. The question for the state agriculture department is how to retain its agriculture population. The Treasure Coast Research and Education Authority in Fort Pierce is working with four counties in the state on a project in which ‘Farm to Fly’ interests are cooperating as part of a critical state initiative.
“You can’t force farmers to plant a new crop but on the other hand if the old crop is no more then they need to figure out another way to exist. So the growers are looking at sweet sorghum and sugar beets as potential biomass.”
CAAFI is also working with GSR Solutions on a project in Vermont that aims to utilise nutrients from industrial/ dairy farm waste to produce algae-based jet fuel. It is also engaged in two other agricultural projects in South Carolina.
Yet another project in Connecticut is investigating the possibility of converting a municipal solid waste (MSW) to electricity plant to produce jet fuel instead. The state does not allow landfill, yet the market for the facility’s output has collapsed as a result of falling electricity prices, reported Altman. Some reputable companies are looking at the business case to re-purpose existing facilities to produce other products, he said. Analysis indicates that liquid fuels such as jet, diesel and home heating oil have at least six times the revenue generation capability when offered at today’s market prices.
“The key is capturing the waste stream. The trash companies need to be a part of what you do,” he added. “The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, which manages the state’s solid waste, is very much a part of the project group.” The project has engaged Southwest Airlines, which has the largest number of flight movements at the local airport, as an advisor and it also has the backing of trade group Airlines for America (A4A).
Altman rejects criticism that fuel companies are not doing enough to develop sustainable aviation biofuels. “The most important parts of the supply chain are the two end points – the feedstock and the end buyers,” he said. “If you have those two pieces, the fuel companies will participate. We are attracting them to our US state initiatives where we can demonstrate engagement with reliable feedstock suppliers and end customers – the airlines.”
He noted the projects and pending projects in Connecticut, South Carolina and Florida alone have engaged seven different fuel companies with differing processes and feedstocks.
The United States may have a more sophisticated agricultural industry than many countries in the world but, he maintained, the same rules apply.
Altman, an aircraft engine veteran with a longstanding involvement from the early stages in the development of alternative aviation fuels, reported good progress was being made in the ASTM approvals of new technology pathways, although it came with challenges.
“We’ve got very good at qualification having learned from the Fischer-Tropsch and HEFA fuel qualifications, and streamlined the process,” he said. “We know how to do it now but it’s really taxing the resources of the guys who have to do the evaluations, namely the engine companies. We now have at least six pathways running in parallel.”
The FAA is stepping up to expand the capability of qualifying multiple pathways, as well as bringing in global partners such as the German renewable aviation fuels initiative, aireg. Such cooperation has become an important part in dealing with the many fuel pathways in the pipeline, he said, for example the testing work being undertaken currently by Lufthansa on Gevo’s isobutanol-derived renewable jet fuel (see article).
Altman believes the next fuel pathway to be approved will be the Direct Sugar to Hydro Carbons (DSHC) technology developed by the Total/Amyris partnership, with certification in a new annex to the ASTM D7566 standard for commercial airline use in a maximum 10% blend possible by as early as July or August. The DSHC process converts plant sugars into a drop-in renewable hydrocarbon jet fuel. The fuel has already been flight tested, the latest an Etihad Boeing 777 demonstration flight in January (see article).
Earlier this month, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials awarded sustainability certification covering Amyris’s renewable hydrocarbon molecules produced from Brazilian sugarcane feedstock at its biorefinery in São Paulo state. It is reported that discussions are underway with four potential buyers, including one active contract negotiation, for the fuel and sales are expected by the end of this year.
As well as a presentation on the Total/Amyris fuel, the Alternative Aviation Fuels Pavilion (AAFP) at the ILA Air Show was also the setting for a number of panel sessions during the course of this week with representatives from Germany’s aireg, IATA, TUIfly, Lufthansa, British Airways/Solena, AISAF (Australian Initiative for Sustainable Aviation Fuels), Spain’s Bioqueroseno, Israel’s Fuel Choices Initiative, Arizona State University, Bauhaus Luftfahrt, Phytosolutions and JatroSolution. Representatives from Japan, the Netherlands and France also participated.
As well as displays from the panel participants, others were on show featuring alternative fuels initiatives in Canada, Mexico and Italy. Visitors to the pavilion included government transport ministry officials who were attending an OECD ministerial meeting in nearby Leipzig.