Issue: Dec 2011


by Bob Brooks

United Airlines recently announced its intention to purchase 20 million/gal/yr
of bio based, ASTM spec Jet-A fuel on condition it results in at least 50% reduced GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from aircraft engines and is cost competitive with petroleum Jet-A. Fuel is now 36% of airline industry total operating costs according to the International Air Transport Association. 

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRIES has since learned from Paul Woods, CEO of Algenol Biofuels, Bonita Springs, Florida that a technology for conversion of ethanol to Jet-A has proved 100% successful meeting both of United’s GHG and fuel cost requirements and that commercialization arrangements with developers of the technology are being finalized. Woods explains that a cornerstone of his firm’s bio Jet-A fuel economic advantage will be its basic ethanol cost of $1/gal prior to conversion to Jet-A. A current typical reported price of petroleum Jet-A in the U.S. has recently been $3.15/gal but likely to increase with oil at $100/bbl when this report was prepared.

Adding dimension to the issue is information released by Byogy Renewables, San Jose, CA that it has developed a system based on catalytic synthesis and fractionating that converts ethanol (and other alcohols) into long chain hydrocarbons that result in Jet-A or gasoline or mixtures of both. It could not be learned, however, whether Algenol plans use of the Byogy technology. 

Stepped up plans for GHG emissions controls from aircraft are escalating in some countries in turn driven by International Energy Agency forecasts that GHG consequences are closing in on a point of no return later this decade. The EU is planning taxes on aircraft carbon emissions above a certain level operating in and out of the EU starting next year. Use of new bio fuels for aircraft would avoid the tax.
Key to success of the project is the new, low cost of ethanol achieved by Algenol. The Algenol process is particularly attractive as it employs solar energy, salt water, waste carbon dioxide and a small amount of nutrients in closed bioreactors containing algae that continuously secretes ethanol vapors. The vapors are condensed into ethanol liquid without need to harvest and process algae. The Algenol system’s ability to use salt rather than fresh water will be an important added incentive for its use World wide.
A unique feature of the Algenol algae based ethanol system is not only its cultivation in salt water but the fact that the process produces one gallon of fresh water per gallon of ethanol as a by-product. The importance of this is illustrated by growing concern that, of total World water supply, only 3% is valuable fresh water. The large U.S. mid continent Ogallala aquifer, for instance, is reported to be suffering rapid depletion
from agricultural irrigation use that could take 6000 years to replenish. 

Four Algenol technology facilities with an expected total cost of 3.5 $billion are being considered by an Asian firm as follow on to the Asian firm’s 100 $million current investment with others in Algenol’s 30 acre initial production facility in Florida. The
Florida operation at scale will be up and running next year having demonstrated its capability in pilot operation with unique photobioreactors of which 170/acre are planned. 

Alternative Jet-A fuel was discussed at a meeting and expo of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) November 30/December 1, Georgetown University, Washington D.C. CAAFI lists 40 energy companies and agencies among its members.

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