Salicornia producer preps for delayed Interjet biofuel demo

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Alternative fuels feedstock producer and supplier Global Seawater intends to provide Interjet with enough salicornia to conduct a biofuel demonstration next year after the Arizona-based company failed to supply the Mexican airline with the amount required for a 2010 trial.

Mismanagement of salicornia production is to blame for the delay, Global Seawater co-chairman Carl Hodges tells ATI.

Airbus parent EADS announced in March 2009 a joint biofuels trial with Interjet, CFM International, Safran and Honeywell fuel technology subsidiary UOP that was originally scheduled for the first quarter of 2010 using an Interjet CFM56-powered Airbus A320.

Mexican firm Seawater Farms Bahia Kino grew salicornia in the northern Mexican state of Sonora intended for the demonstration on behalf of Global Seawater, which holds a majority stake in Seawater Farms.

Global Seawater was to submit the oil derived from salicornia to UOP, which would refine the oil into a fuel indistinguishable from standard jet fuel for Interjet's use.

However, the salicornia grown for the trial was not irrigated daily as required, Hodges says. As a result, 1ha (2.47acres) of salicornia produced only 80kg (176lb) of feedstock. Grown correctly, 1ha of salicornia should produce between 2,000kg (4,409lb) and 3,000kg (6,614lb) of feedstock, he says.

Hodges says the individuals involved with the mismanagement have been let go, and that Seawater Farms is not currently growing salicornia on behalf of Global Seawater. Global Seawater is now working with the state government of Sonora to prevent a repeat of last year's cultivation problems.

If the salicornia is planted correctly this February, there should be sufficient quantities of salicornia oil for UOP to process into jet fuel for use by Interjet during a 2011 demonstration, Hodges says.

Global Seawater remains involved with Interjet, but Hodges says it has not been determined how much of its salicornia oil Interjet will use for the biofuel trial.

Nonetheless, Global Seawater intends to set aside 37,854 litres (10,000USgal) for Interjet. "They might choose to use less. But we have that allotted," Hodges says.

Meanwhile, Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza says the demonstration's project team is now looking at other suppliers, including Mexico City-based Grupo KUO.

As Global Seawater prepares for its next salicornia growing season in Sonora, the company is in discussions with three other airlines, NASA and the US Air Force to purchase biofuel, Hodges says. He declined to identify the carriers but said they include operators in the USA and Latin America.

Ideally the airline deals will be finalised in the next two months, Hodges says.

Global Seawater is also serving as an adviser in an upcoming research institution that will target salicornia-derived aviation fuels in Abu Dhabi, the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Project (SBRP) at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

SBRP backers include Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, Boeing, UOP and the Masdar Institute.

The research will study salicornia and its validity as a feedstock for alternative aviation fuel, a UOP spokeswoman says. Salicornia oil is similar to the oils derived from algae and jatropha, she adds.