Producing Renewable Jet Fuel from Bio N-Butanol
The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake recently announced a contract award to Albemarle Corp., a leading specialty chemicals company, to complete its first biojet fuel production run based on bio n-butanol provided by Cobalt Technologies, a leading developer of next-generation bio n-butantol. For this production run, Albemarle will use NAWCWD technologies to process Cobalt’s bio n-butanol into renewable jet fuel at its Baton Rouge, LA processing facility.
“Our production run of Cobalt’s bio n-butanol provides another attractive pathway to create sustainable jet fuel not only for the military, but eventually for commercial aviation,” said Dr. Michael D. Seltzer, head of NAWCWD’s Technology Transfer Program. “We are proud to be working in partnership with Cobalt and Albemarle to create this renewable jet fuel, and we look forward to testing the end result.”
Funded by the NAWCWD, this initial manufacturing contract by Albemarle kicked off in February 2012. Upon completion, the resulting jet fuel will be tested by the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center – Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) as a continuing process for military certification through the Department of Defense. Once this testing is completed, larger production runs will be undertaken to continue with flight testing.
“This is a significant milestone not only for our collective team, but for the greater industry looking to advance sustainable jet fuels,” said Bob Mayer, CEO of Cobalt Technologies. “It has been a pleasure working closely with the U.S. Navy to advance to this stage of testing, and we are very pleased with the selection of Albemarle as our processing partner, for its proven experience in custom manufacturing and strategic focus on sustainable chemistry.”
Specifically, Cobalt converts non-food feedstock, like woody biomass, into renewable butanol for both chemicals and fuels, including jet fuel. The combined science team from Cobalt and the NAWCWD focused on scaling and optimizing the dehydration chemistry for the conversion of bio n-butanol to 1-butene, followed by oligomerization of the biobutene into jet fuel, based on a process developed at NAWCWD in China Lake, CA.
Once the team completed its initial research, the search for a large-scale processing partner began, which resulted in the awarding of today’s contract to Albemarle.
“We are excited to support the custom scale-up and processing for this advanced technology project as it aligns with our commitment to sustainability,” said Tom Thomas, Division Vice President, Fine Chemistry Services, Albemarle Corp. “We are always looking for projects in which we can use our solutions-based expertise to help address the world’s most important environmental needs. We believe advancing biofuels and developing a renewable jet fuel is of great importance.”
This initial production run is the first significant milestone under the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) signed between NAWCWD and Cobalt in 2010 to develop technology for the conversion of bio n-butanol into full-performance jet and diesel fuels. This CRADA was made possible by the U.S. Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986, which allows private organizations to access the expertise, capabilities and technologies of U.S. Federal laboratories to improve the economic, environmental and social well-being of the United States.
The development of cost-effective and sustainable sources of fuel for military use is a high priority for the U.S. Navy, which is aiming to cut the use of foreign-based fossil fuels in half by 2020. This summer, the Navy is planning on using the recent purchase of 450,000 gallons of biofuel for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime exercise as part of the Great Green Fleet demonstration, a carrier strike group composed of nuclear ships and hybrid electric ships running biofuels, and aircraft flying on biofuels. Additionally, by 2016, the Great Green Fleet will be fully deployed using 50/50 blends of biofuels for ships and aircraft.