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Grasses, Woods & Mustards Key To Aviation, Military Biofuels

Wed, 11/11/2009 - 4:20am

By Jim Lane Biofuels Digest — Novemebr 11, 2009

Ceres, ViaSpace, Sustainable Oils, Solazyme are among R&D leaders aiming to turn America’s heartland into a high-tech advanced biofuels playground of energy grasses and camelina for advanced transportation biofuels and aviation fuel.

“I fully expect that in the future,” said Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson, “that I will make my daily 15-mile commute in a car that is powered by green electrons. But heavy rail, heavy truck, heavy marine will be using diesel or diesel-electric hybrids for a long time, and aviation has nowhere to go but aviation biofuels.”

60 billion gallons of aviation fuel – all of it up for grabs for those biofuel producers who can develop the feedstocks and the processing technologies to make affordable, sustainable biofuels. At $2.50 per refined gallon — it is a $150 billion market today — perhaps more in the future.

Salicornia, jatropha, camelina and algae are usually mentioned as the feedstocks of choice. But there’s a strong connection also between algae and the woods, grasses, mustards and canes grown in the heartlands and the southeast — the cheap sugars that could be unlocked by cellulosic processing technologies hold the key for Solazyme’s heterotropic system for cultivating algae. [In Solazyme's system, algae is grown in large industrial fermenters and fed cellulosic biomass, in the dark — as yeasts and enzymes are a platform for producing ethanol from sugars in fermenters, Solazyme's platform uses algae to produce oils from sugars in a similar industrial setting].

The US military is buying jet biofuels for testing — most recently placing a 600,000 gallon order with  Sustainable Oils,. Cargill and Solazyme.  In addition, Solazyme previously received an order from the Navy for 20,000 gallons of renewable algae derived F-76 Naval distillate fuel for use in Navy ships. In fulfillment of the jet fuel contract, Solazyme said it will partner with Honeywell’s UOP to use the latter’s renewable jet fuel processing technology. The contract calls for delivery of 1500 gallons of SolaHRJET-5 renewable algae derived jet fuel to the Navy for compatibility testing next year.

Today, some updates on advances on the grass side. In part II, tomorrow, a closer look at the woods, canes, salicornia and algae

Biomass, BioGrass In California, Ceres announced that it plans to expand an advanced trait development project to increase biomass yields of several energy grasses by as much as 40% in coming years, while simultaneously decreasing the use of inputs such as nitrogen fertilizers. The project, which was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from among 3,700 renewable energy proposals, will be funded in part by a $5 million advanced research grant managed through the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), a DOE organization modeled after the long-heralded defense organization, DARPA. Projections indicate that the Ceres traits alone could displace 1.3 billion barrels of oil and 58 million tons of coal over a ten year period. Depending on cropping practices, 1.2 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer could be eliminated (about the amount of nitrogen needed for 24 million acres of cotton), among other benefits.

The three-year project is expected to begin next month. Ceres researchers will test its advanced traits in a variety of energy grasses such as switchgrass, sorghum and miscanthus. Productivity and inputs requirements, such as fertilizer, will be evaluated as well as expected improvements to carbon and nitrogen cycles. Upon successful completion, the Ceres traits would undergo a customary evaluation by USDA prior to full commercialization.

Also in California, ViaSpace announced it has applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark “Giant King” as a unique brand of grass. VIASPACE Chief Executive Dr. Carl Kukkonen stated: “VIASPACE has created global interest in Giant King grass, and it is becoming apparent that its unique characteristics and tested performance provide a strong basis for establishing Giant King grass as the leading source of low-carbon renewable energy. We believe a trademark will not only reinforce the competitive advantages and value of Giant King grass, but also prevent others from exploiting the name and buzz that Giant King grass is creating.”

In Montana, Sustainable Oils confirmed that the Food and Drug Administration cattle feed with up to 10 percent concentrations of camelina. The decision makes it possible to establish larger markets for camelina mash. Recently, Sustainable Oils, a producer of camelina-based fuels, announced that it has been awarded a contract by the Defense Energy Support Center for 40,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel. The fuel will be delivered to the Naval Air Systems Command fuels team in 2009 and will support the Navy’s certification testing program of alternative fuels. The contract includes an option to supply up to an additional 150,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel.

Camelina is the most readily available renewable fuel feedstock that meets the Navy’s criteria, with the ability to scale up acreage to meet demand.  The camelina for the contract was primarily grown in 2009 and harvested recently by farmers in Montana. The company also has several field trials in Washington state.

Part II of Jet Plains continues tomorrow with a look at canes, woods, salicornia and algae.

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