US jet fuel biorefinery projects receive $100m

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Four companies with biorefinery projects targeting alternative jet fuel production will receive grant money totalling up to $100 million from the US Energy Department.

Honeywell subsidiary UOP, algae-based fuel developer Sapphire Energy, chemical producer Elevance Renewable Sciences and biorefineries developer ClearFuels Technology will receive funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as the federal government seeks to accelerate the construction and operation of biorefinery facilities in the US.

The projects "will validate refining technologies and help lay the foundation for full commercial-scale development of a biomass industry in the United States" the Energy Department says in a statement.

The Energy Department funding announcement comes as voluntary standards development organisation ASTM International is expected to begin the certification process for bio-derived jet fuels in 2010.

ASTM is also expected to publish a fuel specification for 50% bio-derived blends of generic synthetic paraffinic kerosene, called hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ), next year, paving the way for commercial production and airline use of up to 50% HRJ blends with petroleum-derived jet fuel. The certification of 100% HRJs is expected in 2013.

As the certification process nears, the Energy Department grant recipients seek to prepare the infrastructure for alternative jet fuels.

UOP aims to demonstrate the viability of using cellulosic biomass, such as forest or agricultural residuals, as a feedstock for drop-in jet fuel and diesel fuel.

Toward that end, the company will use its $25 million grant to build a demonstration unit at a Tesoro refinery site in Kapolei, Hawaii.

Cellulosic biomass will be converted to pyrolysis oil, a liquid biofuel, at the demonstration unit, a UOP spokeswoman says. The unit will also have the capability to upgrade the pyrolysis oil to jet fuel and diesel fuel, she adds.

Sapphire Energy, which cultivates algae in ponds to be converted into alternative fuels including jet fuel, was awarded a $50 million grant.

CEO Jason Pyle says in a statement that the funding will allow the San Diego-based company to expand its commercial-scale pond system in Columbus, New Mexico, and advance development work at its laboratories in San Diego.

In addition to Energy Department funding, Sapphire has also been selected by the US Agriculture Department to receive a loan guarantee for up to $54.5 million for its project through the Biorefinery Assistance Program. The program was created by the US Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, commonly known as the Farm Bill.

ClearFuels Technology will receive up to $23 million in grant money from the Energy Department to construct a biomass gasifier at synthetic fuels producer Rentech's energy technology center in Denver. Rentech holds a 25% stake in ClearFuels.

The gasifier will be integrated with Rentech's product demonstration unit for the production of renewable synthetic fuels from biomass including sugar cane bagasse, virgin wood waste and other cellulosic feedstocks. ClearFuels says that "the demonstration of an integrated biorefinery will lead to the final design basis for commercial facilities".

Elevance Renewable Sciences was awarded a $2.5 million grant to fund the preliminary engineering design for a demonstration scale integrated biorefinery to produce chemicals and advanced biofuels, including jet fuels, from renewable oils.

The company plans to build its project in Newton, Iowa but site selection has not been finalized, an Elevance spokeswoman says.

"The demonstration scale biorefinery will help Elevance to understand the impact of feedstocks and recycle streams, as well as produce platform chemicals and fuels for market development and performance testing," the company says in a statement.

It will also enable Elevance to develop a model for the design of a commercial scale unit, the Bolingbrook, Illinois-based firm adds.