Reports/Opinions

Biofuels (Reviews and Prospects of ICEF 2017 Concurrent Sessions)

Posted by James D. Kinder December 13, 2017 Senior Technical Fellow, Boeing Commercial Airplanes

In the last ten years there have been major developments to produce a “drop-in” fuel for aviation from bio-derived sources. Fuel has been developed from a variety of feedstocks and conversion technologies. The wide variety of feedstocks that have currently been used to produce fuels have come from bio-oils, sugars, biomass, and waste gases with more feedstocks being explored. There have been tremendous advancements in chemical conversion technologies and utilizing microorganisms to convert these feedstocks to a drop in fuel. There is a great opportunity to advance the development of bio-derived fuels even further especially in Japan by optimizing the efficiency of the conversion technology and utilizing microorganisms.  Many Japanese companies have already committed to explore novel ways to produce bio-derived fuels for aviation that will benefit not only the aviation industry, but also the Japanese economy.

Even though there has been great progress more work needs to be done to develop innovative pathways to produce fuel, address policy issues, and supply chain optimization. The ICEF Biofuel session provided an overview of innovative pathways to produce fuel, the policy landscape, and supply chain challenges. With support of the aviation community and the Japanese government the production of bio-derived fuels in Japan can become a reality.

Ms. Elizabeth Wood, The Boeing Company: Ms. Wood gave a detailed description why sustainable aviation fuels are important to the aviation industry to reach the industry long term strategy for achieving CO2 emission reduction targets. The airframe and engine manufacturers have and will continue to make improvements in the performance of the airframe and engines to reduce emissions, however the advancement and use of sustainable biofuels has a major effect in reducing emissions. There are many airlines that have announced offtakes of aviation biofuels. The challenge in meeting these offtake agreements are fuel availability and cost.

Dr. Valerie Sarisky-Reed, U.S. Department of Energy: Dr. Sarisky-Reed discussed the US Biomass Research and Development Act (BR&D). The BR&D established the Interagency Biomass R&D Board, the Technical Advisory Committee, and the Biomass R&D Initiative (BRDi). The purpose of the BR&D is to facilitate coordination among the federal agencies that affect the research, development, and deployment of biofuels and bioproducts. Dr. Sarisky-Reed presented information on The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). The main focus areas of the BETO are Production & Harvesting, Conversion & Refining, and Distribution and End Use to reduce the uncertainties and reduce cost across the supply chain. In FY/18 the BETO will initiate analysis on the R&D needed to enable price competitive biofuels without subsidies.

Ms. Eline Schapers, SkyNRG: Ms. Schapers highlighted the tremendous progress in the use of biofuels for commercial aviation. There have been over 40,000 commercial biofuel flights and three airports have setup an integrated biofuel supply. However, there are still logistic changes with using biofuel for aviation. One of the big challenges is the requirement for blending the biofuel with conventional jet fuel and the added testing that is required for neat biofuel and the final biofuel blend. Integration of biofuel into the fossil jet infrastructure is key in realizing more efficient and lower cost supply chain.

Mr. Takahisa Yano, New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO): Mr. Yano presented information on the commitment of the Japanese government to advancing biofuels for aviation. It is expected that the introduction of the biofuels in Japan will happen around 2030.  There are significant R&D efforts in Japan to optimize feedstock production and develop conversion process to convert the feedstock to jet fuel. Japan is currently focusing on four pathways to produce biofuels for aviation. These pathways are fischer tropsch process, microalgae, catalytic hydrothermolysis, and isobutanol to jet.

Dr. Yasuhiro Yamauchi, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Ltd.: Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems has received NEDO funding to produce biofuel by biomass gasification followed by fischer tropsch synthesis. Commercialization of the process is expected around 2030. The near term goal is to produce more than 20 liters/day before 2020. The study for the commercial stage is to optimize the process, use a diverse biomass, product scale up design, and optimization of the catalyst and operation parameters. The partners in the development of the process are Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Ltd, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Toyo Engineering Corporation, Chubu Electric Power Company Inc., and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Ms. Mamiko Saito, IHI Corporation: IHI is working on a unique microalgae oil that produces a large concentration of the hydrocarbons. IHI has a target yield of oil yield of over 10,000 L oil/ha per year. IHI has optimized the algae strain to grow 1000 times faster than other similar algae strains. The high hydrocarbon concentration of the oil may result in a low energy harvesting process. A 1,500 m2 pilot facility to produce the oil with an integrated process was started in 2017. Expansion of the production capability is 10,000 mis being planned. UOP is partnering with IHI to convert the algae oil to a biofuel for aviation.

Mr. Korehiro Odate, Euglena Co. Ltd.: Euglena’s 2020 mid-term management biofuel goals for Japan is to complete construction of a biofuel demonstration plant, commercial flight using biofuels, produce bio-diesel for ground transportation. Euglena started the “Made-in-Japan Biofuel Project” in December 2015 with five partners; the City of Yokohama, Chiyoda Corporation, Itochu Enex, Isuzu Motors and All Nippon Airways(ANA). The “Made-in-Japan Biofuel Project” focusing on feedstock production, conversion of the oil to ASTM compliant biofuel, and commercial flights using the fuel. Operation of the large scale culture pool started in July 2017.  The construction of the facility to convert the oil to biofuel began in 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2018 with a production capacity of five barrels per day. The estimate date for commercial production capacity is around the 2025.

Dr. Masayuki Inui, Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE): In Dr. Inui’s presentation he stressed the importance of developing sustainable biofuels to lower CO2 emissions. Both ICAO and IATA have set goals for reducing CO2 emissions from aviation and biofuels plays a key role in meeting these goals. RITE has developed technology to convert non-food biomass using microbial cells to isobutanol that can be converted to jet fuel.  The microbial cells developed by RITE produce a high isobutanol concentration compared to other microorganisms.