Solazyme claims world first in race to produce algae-based jet fuel that meets the ASTM standard
Fri 12 Sept 2008 – San Francisco-based Solazyme has laid claim to becoming the world’s first producer of a microbial-derived jet fuel that meets the 11 most challenging specifications of the ASTM D1655 standard for aviation jet fuel. On key measurement tests for density, thermal oxidative stability, flashpoint, freezing point, distillation and viscosity, Solazyme says its algal-based fuel met the ASTM requirements, thus passing the highest hurdle in successfully developing a commercial and military drop-in jet fuel.
Its fuel was analyzed by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), a leading US fuel analytical laboratory.
Solazyme reports it is currently producing “thousands of gallons” of oil at scale and claims it is the only advanced biofuels company that has so far produced fuels to have passed specification testing.
It says it has developed a unique algal conversion process that allows algae to produce oil in large tanks quickly, efficiently and without sunlight. The process can employ a variety of non-food feedstocks, including cellulosic materials such as agricultural residues and high-productivity grasses, including bagasse and switchgrass, as well as industrial by-products such as crude glycerol. The results, says the company, are renewable oils that can be leveraged across a wide variety of industries and applications that are nontoxic and safe.
Solazyme participates in the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative (CAAFI), a consortium of US government agencies (including the FAA), airlines, manufacturers, airports, and current and prospective fuel suppliers that are coordinating work on the research and development of alternative jet fuels, including technical specifications, environmental aspects, production and distribution.
CAAFI’s Executive Director, Richard Altman, said: “Our sponsors and stakeholders are very enthusiastic about the potential for algae-based fuels as they both absorb CO2 and will have the potential for high oil yield per acre – many times that of other biofuel options.
“Algae fuels generally fit within the category of hydrotreated renewable fuels now being addressed by the aviation certification authorities. Other producers have provided fuel of this type for ‘fit for purpose’ testing but to date these have largely focused on lower yield plant oil products from feedstocks such as jatropha. We are anticipating a near-term announcement of a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) initiative, which together with multiple contractors will address issues of large scale production scale-up and the economics of algae fuel supply.”
So how important is the Solazyme announcement? Biofuel industry sources suggest that other companies may have already developed algal-based jet fuels that meet the ASTM specifications but for commercial or contractual reasons have not yet gone public.
Converting algal oils to jet fuel specifications is not the fundamental obstacle, says Jennifer Holmgren, Director of the Renewable Energy and Chemicals business for UOP, which has developed process technology to convert natural oils to jet fuel. “The gap is getting algal oils in large quantities and demonstrating that these oils can be ‘manufactured’ in a fashion which is cost effective – currently no one has demonstrated anything less than $10 per gallon.” The US average price of a gallon of jet fuel over the first seven months of 2008 was $3.38.
However, the aerospace industry is keen to recognize the potential of algae as a jet biofuel. Nancy Young, Vice President Environmental Affairs for the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), a founding and principal member of CAAFI, welcomed Solazyme’s achievement.
“It shows great promise, and their focus on demonstrating that their algae-derived jet fuel meets the ASTM standard and fit for purpose requirements for jet fuel is exactly the focus that alternative fuel producers need to have,” she told GreenAir. “There are a number of companies that are making great progress on environmentally friendly, commercially viable alternative jet fuel from a variety of feedstocks. The ATA has made clear that we welcome all producers who can demonstrate their fuel meets the ASTM standard plus other critical criteria that we spelt out in our alternative fuels commitment.”