Biofuel suppliers look to commerical production

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As the airlines participating in alternative fuels trials prep data for a certifying body, the biofuel supply chain is working toward moving the refining process to a commercial level.

Fuel technology firm UOP, which refined the blends used in demonstrations by Continental Airlines, Air New Zealand (ANZ) Japan Airlines (JAL), is targeting licensing refining technology to develop renewable jet fuel during the first half of 2009, a spokeswoman for the Honeywell subsidiary says.

UOP is declining to identify potential customers.

Once refiners buy the licence, it will likely take between two and two-and-a-half years to construct an alternative fuels facility, she says. But refiners are likely to expand existing facilities rather than start from scratch.

With refining technology in place, biofuel production levels could reach hundreds of millions of gallons by 2012, UOP general manager renewable energy and chemicals Jennifer Holmgren says.

As Continental and ANZ complete analysis of their biofuel tests, the carriers will report data to fuel certifying body ASTM International mid year, she says.

The report will also include information from JAL once the carrier completes its biofuel test flight on 30 January.

Holmgren expects ASTM International to certify a 50-50 biofuel blend by 2010.

Certification of a 100% blend is expected in 2013, she says, noting there is not enough feedstock currently available for a 100% blend.

ASTM International is not expected to request additional alternative fuel demonstrations by airlines, but could request endurance testing on specific engine components, says Boeing managing director for environmental strategy Billy Glover.

Yesterday Continental tested a blend of 50% Jet A and 50% biofuel containing 2.5% algae oil and 47.5% jatropha oil-the first biofuel test in the US.

Air New Zealand flew a Boeing 747-400 with one of four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines powered by a 50-50 mix of Jet A and biofuel derived from jatropha plant oil on 30 December.

JAL will fly a Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered Boeing 747-300s using a blend of 50% Jet A and 50% biofuel made of 84% camelina oil, roughly 16% jatropha oil and about 1% algae oil in one of four engines. This will be the first trial involving camelina crops and Pratt & Whitney engines.