My Clean Break column today takes a look at some recent efforts to turn the oils from algae and certain non-food crops into jet fuel, which at roughly 8 per cent of the market for petroleum products — compared to gasoline’s take of 43 per cent in Canada and 46 per cent in the U.S. — could be significantly displaced by the greener variety. There’s also the fact that airplanes, unlike cars, trucks and buses, can’t run on electricity. As you’ll know from reading this blog and my column, I am a strong advocate for concentrating biofuel R&D and production efforts on jet fuel displacement.
The column begins with a look at a company in Halifax, Nova Scotia, called Ocean Nutrition Canada. Its core business is making Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and its the largest supplier of this product in the world. But recently company scientists stumbled upon an interesting form of algae after screening hundreds of ocean microorganisms. They discovered a heterotrophic algae, in reality a protist, that is 60 times more productive at making oils than other types of algae that rely on sunlight and CO2. Heterotrophs, like humans, grow by eating carbon-based materials. Ocean Nutrition Canada, which has patented the unique organism — called ONC T18 B — was approached by some folks in the biofuel industry and encouraged to lead a project consortium funded by Sustainable Development Technology Canada and which includes the National Research Council and Lockheed Martin. They plan to demonstrate they can grow the algae on a large scale using a waste stream feedstock. Project partner Honeywell UOP will convert the algae oil into jet fuel.
Honeywell UOP is also involved with another SDTC project aimed at producing jet fuel, this one based on camelina oil. Targeted Growth Canada of Saskatchewan is heading that consortium, which includes Bombardier and Pratt & Whitney Canada. Early next year, the first test of that fuel will take place in a Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 turboprop, which typically fly out of Toronto’s island airport.
Okay, as far as the concept of carbon capture and storage goes, the idea — technologically — is intriguing. What many readers of this blog don’t like is how the industry talks about this technology like it’s here today so, hell, let’s drill for even more oil and burn more coal. We’re a decade away from seeing even just a small number of large-scale CCS projects in operation, so talk today of coal plants or oil-sand operations being “CCS-ready” is nothing more than greenwashing. I would imagine most people don’t mind the Canadian government supporting R&D into CCS, but what they perhaps don’t like is that the investment is being made to the exclusion of everything else. Why, it’s reasonable to ask, take a silver-bullet approach to a technology that’s a decade away? Would it not be better to balance it with near-term measures and investment in technologies that are here today?
But let’s assume, a decade out, that all the promise of CCS pans out. Let’s assume it takes hold, that a vast network of pipelines is built, that we’re certain sequestration sites won’t leak, and that the percentage of CO2 we can capture from coal plants and industrial sites continues to improve. Let’s assume that two decades out we start to see a number of acquifers and old oil fields filled to capacity with CO2 and, finally, capped shut.
Think those storage sites will be forever permanent? Think again. Continue reading Carbon storage might not be so permanent
Those who read this blog know from past posts that I support development of biofuels as one of many climate-change solutions, but strictly conditional on how it’s made and how it’s used. Cellulosic ethanol can play an important role when we move to plug-in hybrids that still require gasoline, though to a much smaller extent. And, of course, I’m a big fan of developing biofuels as a climate-friendly alternative to jet fuel.
Air New Zealand has been making some serious progress on that front with its partners Boeing, Rolls-Royce and UOP (Honeywell). A team led by Rolls-Royce is putting a jatropha-based jet fuel through rigorous tests to further validate what preliminary data has so far shown: that the fuel meets all required specifications for commercial aviation. Once testing is completed later this fall, and assuming all conditions are met, the new fuel will be tested on an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 sometime in December. The jetliner will be powered by four Rolls-Royce engines, one of which will run on the Jatropha-based jet fuel. Continue reading Green jet fuel making headway, closer than thought