I already posted on L.A.-based Rentech’s plans to build a $500-million jet fuel biorefinery four hours north of Sault St. Marie, Ontario, using residual crown timber. My latest Clean Break column looks at that project in more detail and against the backdrop of a coming European Union aviation “carbon” tax that will hit all airlines flying into the EU on Jan. 1, 2012.
Also, I had a chance to attend a panel at the BIO World Congress conference in Toronto this week on the challenges of producing renewable jet fuel. The panellists all agreed that producing low-carbon jet fuel from algae, jatropha, camelina and wood was not only technically doable but could be done economically. The potential problem, as one panellist pointed out, is that producers may opt first to make higher value products, such as green chemicals and nutriceuticals, which can fetch a much higher price per litre and, by association, a higher profit. In other words, we can make the green jet fuel, but will we use it as jet fuel?
So far, that’s Rentech’s intention — but will it change its mind? Either way, from a climate perspective, the end product will still presumably displace petroleum-based feedstocks, so it would seem all good in the end.
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.