Nearly two years ago, an LA-based company called Rentech Inc. announced plans to build a biofuels plant four hours north of Sault St. Marie, Ontario. It would use forest waste and “unmerchantable” tree species for making renewable jet fuel and naphtha, a chemical feedstock used to make all sorts of products. That plant was supposed to be operational in 2015. It was supposed to employ up to 1,000 people during peak construction, and keep 83 people directly employed full time in a region of the province that could really use those jobs.
Ain’t gonna happen, it seems.
The company put out a press release last night announcing that it is ceasing operations, reducing staff, and eliminating all R&D related to new technology development. And yes folks, I’m told that would includes its Ontario “Olympiad” project, which was to use a Fischer-Tropsch process to turn biomass into 85 million litres of green fuel annually. It means the deal Rentech signed with the Ontario government that gave it access to up to 1.1 million cubic metres of Crown timber is effectively dead wood. The question is whether those access rights will be transferred to one of the competing projects from local companies that bid against Rentech and lost.
It’s funny (or not so funny) how many grand announcements from government never actually come to fruition. This, in my view, could have been a good project. It’s a shame for the people living in that region. They could have used the economic boost.
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.
Okay, my headline was intentionally designed to bring some kind of energy angle to this post, but really I just wanted to bring attention to this really intriguing idea of turning old Jumbo Jets into on-site accommodations for air travellers. The picture to the left is a “Honeymoon Suite” inside a cockpit of a Jumbo Jet based at an airport in Sweden. The plane has been converted into a hostel/hotel. They call it the Jumbo Hostel. You can watch a CNN News report here on YouTube or check out pictures at the company’s website.
On the topic of the future of air travel, you might be interested in this presentation from the World Bank’s top air transport expert. There is information about peak oil and the role of efficiency and biofuels near the end. (Hat tip to Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller for the link).
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