Air Canada, Red Rock and SkyNRG move forward on biofuel initiatives while Air New Zealand takes longer view
Thu 26 Apr 2018 – As part of a Canadian biofuel demonstration project, Air Canada has blended 230,000 litres of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) into Toronto-Pearson Airport’s multi-user, co-mingled airport fuel supply system. Carbon savings from the fuel were accredited to Air Canada domestic flights from Toronto that took place last Sunday, Earth Day. In other aviation biofuel news, Colorado-based Red Rock Biofuels has finally received the green light to construct a renewable energy biofuels plant in Oregon. The company has offtake agreements in place with FedEx and Southwest Airlines. Meanwhile, SkyNRG has announced it is to collaborate with Global Bioenergies on ASTM certification of an isobutene feedstock and conversion process for the production of sustainable aviation fuel. Air New Zealand Chief Executive Christopher Luxon has said large-scale commercialisation of SAF is a decade away after a search for suitable biofuel partners had so far proved elusive.
Canada’s Biojet Supply Chain Initiative (CBSCI) is a three-year project between 14 stakeholder organisations, including Air Canada, which are working to enable a biojet supply chain in the country, with testing the feasibility of co-mingling biojet with an airport’s main fuel system an important component. Primary funding for the project, apart from the purchase of the biofuel for the Toronto-Pearson initiative, has come from the Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN), a non-profit organisation funded by the Canadian aerospace industry and Canada’s federal Network of Centres of Excellence.
“Air Canada is proud of its leading role in this biofuel project, the first of its kind in Canada, which will advance the use of low-carbon renewable fuels in Canada by demonstrating they can be used in shared fuel systems at airports,” said the airline’s Chief Executive, Calin Rovinescu. “Our participation is one way Air Canada is reducing its footprint and also helping our entire industry improve its environmental performance.”
Construction of the much-delayed Red Rock biorefinery in Lakeview, Oregon is expected to take around 18 months to complete, with operations slated to begin in 2020. The facility will process waste woody biomass using Red Rock’s scaled-down Fischer Tropsch technology that enables conversion of smaller feedstock volumes to ultra-low carbon, renewable jet and diesel fuels. It aims to convert 136,000 tons of biomass into 15.1 million gallons of renewable fuels per year. Using locally-sourced forest and sawmill residues not only avoids competition for agricultural resources but also reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires by removing waste biomass from overgrown forests, says Red Rock.
FedEx has contracted with Red Rock to supply three million gallons of biofuel a year for its planes based at the FedEx Express Oakland hub in California (see article). Southwest Airlines has agreed to purchase a similar quantity of fuel.
French company Global Bioenergies (GBE) is developing a process converting renewable resources such as forestry or agricultural wastes into isobutene – one of the main petroleum derivatives – and first batches of isobutene-based SAF have been produced at its demo plant in Leuna, Germany. The batches are said by the company to be mainly composed of C12 iso-paraffins – the same molecules as those found in conventional jet fuel – with good ‘cold-flow’ properties, high octane and an energy content in the jet fuel range.
They have been sent to market-leading aviation biofuel supplier SkyNRG for preliminary analysis in preparation for Tier 1 of the four-stage ASTM evaluation process. Tier 1 tests consist of the analysis of physical and chemical properties of the fuel, such as composition, volatility, fluidity (freezing point and viscosity), net heat of combustion, corrosion and thermal stability.
“We’re excited to work together with GBE towards the commercialisation of this new production pathway for sustainable aviation fuel,” said Misha Valk, Head of Business Development at SkyNRG. “It has the potential to be scalable and cost effective, without sacrificing performance.”
Marc Delcourt, GBE’s Chief Executive, said: “Jet fuel is the fastest developing segment in oil products, growing at a pace of 4-5% per year. After having just shown the reality of renewable gasoline in a first car on the road event with our partner Audi, we will soon show that our sustainable aviation fuel has a unique potential to decarbonise the skies.”
Air New Zealand, one of the early pioneers in using aviation biofuels when it operated a test flight in January 2009 using fuel sourced from jatropha, appears to have shelved plans to develop a national sustainable aviation fuel supply chain. Joining forces with Virgin Australia, the airlines put out a search for interested parties and last year they announced strong interest with more than 30 responses from organisations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe and the United States (see article).
However, in an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Air New Zealand Chief Executive Christopher Luxon said the airline had wanted to buy 20 million litres of SAF by 2020 but no-one had been in a position to offer biofuels on that scale and by that time. “They’re a real solution to solving our carbon problem but it isn’t going to kick in for another decade from now. That’s why we are going to focus on offsetting.” He said the airline had been making efforts to encourage passengers to offset their emissions before paying for their flight and had seen an increase in the number participating.