Life cycle study shows camelina-derived biojet fuel can reduce GHG emissions by up to 84 percent
Tue 5 May 2009 – Renewable fuels company Sustainable Oils reports that results from a life cycle analysis (LCA) of biojet fuel created from camelina seeds developed by the company show the fuel reduces carbon emissions by up to 84% compared to conventional petroleum jet fuel. The research was carried out by the Sustainable Futures Institute at Michigan Technological University (MTU) in collaboration with hydroprocessing technology company UOP. Sustainable Oils and UOP partnered in supplying camelina biojet fuel for the Japan Airlines test flight in January.
The size of the reduction is higher than was first indicated by the MTU study, which determined upward of 60% emissions reduction through the use of jet fuel from feedstocks such as jatropha and camelina. According to Jennifer Holmgren, General Manager of UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals Unit, recently updated data from Sustainable Oils’ Montana camelina fields showed a lower fertilizer input resulted in lower life cycle emissions.
“Widespread use of fertilizer has a big impact on the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint,” she told GreenAir. “So farming practices are actually quite important when it comes to the GHG emissions of biofuels, which is what environmental NGOs correctly point out. Since camelina is a low fertilizer, rotation crop, you get excellent GHG savings when using it.”
David Shonnard, Robbins Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering at MTU and Deputy Director of MTU’s Sustainable Futures Institute, said: “Camelina green jet exhibits one of the largest greenhouse gas emission reduction of any agricultural feedstock-derived biofuel I’ve ever seen. This high number is the result of the unique attributes of the crop – its low fertilizer requirements, high oil yield and the use of co-products such as meal and biomass for other uses.”
He told US Today that conventional camelina can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 70% with no loss of fuel performance. The 84% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was based on a strain of camelina expected to need less fertilizer and yield more than other types of the crop currently in production. “These next generation biofuels are true hydrocarbons and on a molecular level indistinguishable from fossil fuels,” he told the newspaper.
Boeing spokesman Terrance Scott said that upward of 60% was “at the conservative end” of the emissions reduction range. “We’ve maintained through our own work that you would see between 60 and 80% emissions reduction depending on the source of the biomass material. We’re continuing to carry out LCA work on a number of the feedstock sources we are looking at, but based on current findings, we fully expect the reductions to fall higher than 60%, not below.”
UOP’s Holmgren concurs. “When you use the right feedstock as input with the correct farming practices, you do see that a greater than 60% reduction can be achieved,” she said. “It is likely we will be in the 60-80% range with some crops and specific fields giving up to 90%. I think the point of using a range is to say that the aviation industry is very conscious and careful regarding the fuel it selects and airlines will want to fly on fuels that reduce GHG emissions by at least 60%.”
She said it was important not to get caught up in over-selling either the crop or the approach. “I think this could result in the same type of backlash we have seen for other feedstocks. Camelina is a great crop but so are others and we need all of them to be successful in creating a sustainable aviation biofuels future.”
Managing Director of Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Billy Glover, told a recent US congressional hearing that both camelina and jatropha showed great promise for increased energy oil creativity without negatively impacting land and water use.
Commenting on the MTU camelina findings, Glover said: “Camelina is one of the most promising sources for renewable fuels that we’ve seen. It performed as good, if not better, than traditional jet fuel during our Japan Airlines test flight, and supports our goal of accelerating the market availability of sustainable, renewable fuel sources that can help aviation reduce emissions. It’s clear from the LCA results that camelina is one of the leading near-term options and, even better, it’s available today.”
Sustainable Oils says camelina is well-suited to be a sustainable biofuel crop as it naturally contains a high oil content, its oils are low in saturated fat, it is drought resistant, requires less fertilizer and herbicides, it can grow in marginal land and is an “excellent” rotation crop with wheat. It also fulfils the aviation industry’s biofuel pledge that it does not displace other crops or compete as a food source, claims the company.
Estimates suggest that the state of Montana alone could support between two and three million acres of camelina, generating 200 to 300 million gallons of oil per year. “The acreage that we have contracted for 2009 will be used primarily to continue to develop the promising biojet market,” said Scott Johnson, General Manager of Sustainable Oils. “Our success this year in planting thousands of acres of camelina specifically for this use will prepare us to supply the hundreds of millions of gallons of fuel we will need within five years. No other potential feedstock can provide as much fuel in as short a horizon.”
The company says it expects to deliver most of its 2009 production for use as biojet fuel feedstock.