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Biofuels News: Aviation, Algae, and Production

Doris de Guzman's picture
, Green Chemicals Blog

Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable...

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  • Mar 22, 2013

Here are some big news items from the biofuel industry coming from KLM, Kior and Sapphire Energy.

Let’s start with KLM, which announced on March 8 that it is now operating a weekly flight (Flight KL642) from New York to Amsterdam operated by a Boeing 777-200 powered by biofuels supplied by Dynamic Fuel.

Since September 2011, KLM has already been operating a series of biofuel-powered flights on the Amsterdam-Paris route. The company said their goal is to operate 1% of all their flights with biofuel in 2015. The New York-Amsterdam flight will use yellow grease (recycled cooking oil) as feedstock for the biofuel component. KLM said each of the flights will reduce 24 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Now, the biofuel supplied by Dynamic Fuel (a JV between Syntroleum and Tyson Foods) is actually biokerosene. If I remember correctly on past press releases from KLM and Dynamic Fuels, only one engine for their previous Amsterdam to Paris flights uses biofuel, which is mixed (about 50% of the biokerosene) with traditional jet fuel.

Dynamic Fuels produces their biokerosene at its 75m gal/year isoparaffinic diesel plant in Geismar, Louisiana, which uses catalytic hydrotreating of non-food grade animal fats and greases supplied by Tyson Foods. The plant is designed to process 550m lb/year (250,000 tonnes/year) of feedstock, from what I recall in my interview with Syntroleum two years ago.

According to Syntroleum’s recent fourth quarter earnings results, Dynamic Fuels sold 35.2m gallons of renewable fuels for the year ended September 30, 2012.

With the Kior news, the company announced this week that it has shipped its first cellulosic diesel product from its 13m gal/year facility in Columbus, Mississippi. The facility, which uses proprietary catalysts systems combined with existing Fluid Catalytic Cracking technology, was commissioned in the fourth quarter last year.

The facility uses pine wood chips to produce gasoline and diesel. No statement on where or to whom the cellulosic diesel are being shipped to although based on a recent company presentation, production from the facility is fully subscribed by Catchlight Energy ( a JV of Chevron and Weyerhauser),  FedEx, and Hunt Refining.

The company said on its annual report that the Columbus facility is still at limited continuous production, and are not yet in “steady state”.

Kior is currently planning to begin construction of its first standard commercial production facility in Natchez, Mississippi, in the second half of 2013, subject to the company’s ability to raise capital. The facility, which is expected to start in 2015, will have the capacity to produce up to 40m gal/year of cellulosic diesel and gasoline.

The total cost for the planned Natchez facility is estimated at $460m, comprised of $350m for the conversion plant and $110m for a centralized hydrotreating plant. Kior said it plans to raise capital in one or more external equity and [or] debt financings over the next 9 months.

Finally, Sapphire Energy announced yesterday that it has entered a commercial agreement with Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company where Tesoro will purchase algae crude oil from Sapphire Energy’s 100-acre Green Crude farm (which is expected to expand to 300 acres) in Columbus, New Mexico.

Sapphire Energy said it is now producing crude oil daily from algae biomass cultivated in the Columbus farm using wet extraction technology. How much crude algae oil per day? I still have to find out. Sapphire Energy commissioned the Green Crude farm in August 2012 and is said to be operating in a commercial test phase.

The company’s goal once the Green Crude farm has expanded to 300 cultivated acres is to produce 1m gallons per year of finished product or an equivalent of 100 barrels/day of green crude oil using 56 metric tons of carbon dioxide per day.

Sapphire plans to construct a commercial biorefinery, which is expected to start in 2015 and by 2018, produce 5,000 barrels/day of green crude.


John Miller's picture
John Miller on Mar 22, 2013

Doris, based on KLM's 24 ton CO2 savings per NY-Amsterdam trip it looks like they are planning to operate with about 12% biojet blends into their petroleum jet.  This limit is usually constrained by the blended fuel physical properties (such as the pour/cloud points temperatures).  While the estimated CO2 reduction appears reasonably accurate for the final consumption of the blended fuel in the aircraft jet engines (partial-final step of the overall motor fuel lifecycle), it appears to assume a ‘zero’ CO2 emission factor for the biomass cultivation and conversion processes.  This is only true for the algae feedstock, but does not include the (fossil fuel) energy required for the algae pond operation, algae recovery and conversion.  These front-end lifecycle carbon emissions could approach that of the petroleum jet being displaced, which will reduce the 24 ton CO2 benefit quite significantly.

Do you have a reference or can you access the data that shows what the full lifecycle energy and carbon equivalent emission balances are for the Dynamic Fuel cultivation-to-finish biojet operations.  I’m also curious, what is the market cost to KLM for the biojet compared to commercial petroleum jet.

Simon Friedrich's picture
Simon Friedrich on Mar 24, 2013


The carbon neutral hypothesis ('zero' CO2 emission factor) only holds if the algae can be grown in an area (and using water resources) unable to support other plant photosynthesis. At any viable commercial scale, I doubt the growing area would be devoid and/or unable to support other green plant life that could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  On a massive global algae fuel use scale, we are faced with the unmanaged “Tragedy of the Commons” with respect carbon dioxide emissions. The algae fuels needs to be counted as greenhouse gas emissions when combusted. It is “arithmetic.”


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