Firms focus on supply chain for camelina-derived jet fuel

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Alternative aviation jet fuel supply chain integrator BioJet Corporation has been partnering with camelina seed producer Great Plains Oil and Exploration to pursue feedstock cultivation and refinery projects to advance the commercialisation of bio-derived aviation jet fuel globally.

The US firms have submitted proposals to two European countries to cultivate 202,343Ha (500,000 acres) of the flowering plant in each nation, BioJet CEO Mitch Hawkins tells ATI. He declined to identify the countries.

The proposals come as specifications to enable commercial production and use of up to 50% blends of bio-derived generic synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) is expected as early as this year, and as Dutch operator KLM and Japan Airlines (JAL) both used camelina as a feedstock in alternative jet fuel demonstrations in 2009.

In addition, BioJet, Great Plains and an unnamed third party are preparing three proposals for camelina cultivation and refining in the USA, Hawkins says, declining to elaborate. BioJet and Great Plains have also had discussions with major farming interests in Latin America and Asia about camelina cultivation, he adds.

Camelina has the potential to be a valuable feedstock for alternative aviation fuels since it grows in cold climates and can be machine harvested, whereas a feedstock such as jatropha is grown in warm climates and must be harvested by hand, Hawkins says. While the economics of jatropha cultivation would not work in the USA, camelina cultivation is a very attractive option for the USA, he adds.

In addition to camelina, BioJet is targeting projects with feedstocks such as jatropha and algae as it aims to produce 20 million barrels per year of renewable jet fuel by 2020.

Great Plains currently contracts farmers to cultivate camelina in 12 US states and four Canadian provinces, and the firm intends to expand in the USA this year, Great Plains CEO Sam Huttenbauer says.

The company provided camelina oil to fuel technology firm UOP, which converted the oil into jet fuel, a portion of which KLM used for its biofuel demonstration flight in November 2009.

During its demonstration, KLM powered one of four engines on a Boeing 747 with a 50:50 mix of a camelina-based biofuel and traditional kerosene.

Huttenbauer says the next logical step in the development of alternative aviation fuels is for airlines to power all engines of a demonstration aircraft with a 50:50 biofuel blend.

Camelina was also the main feedstock in the 50:50 biofuel mix that JAL used to power one of four engines on a 747-300 during a trial last January.

Camelina accounted for 84% of the biofuel, and jatropha and algae together comprised 16% of that fuel.

In December 2009, fourteen carriers and alternative fuels producer AltAir Fuels entered a memorandum of understanding to negotiate the purchase of roughly 189 million litres (50 million USgal) of camelina-derived jet fuel per year to be produced by AltAir.