Commercializing Jet Biofuel and Cellulosics

The Energy and Environment Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota have developed and are commercializing not one but two technologies that could have far reaching impacts.


Last month, Michael Belfiore, on the Q2C blog, noted that the EERC have produced JP-8 jet fuel from vegetable oil:

The group has already created the world’s first completely renewable jet fuel. In goes straight vegetable oil into a processor, out comes military-grade JP-8, packing enough energy per cubic centimeter and remaining fluid enough at low enough temperature (-47 C) to safely power jet aircraft.

Last summer, DARPA shipped some of the stuff to Flometrics, which successfully used it to launch a rocket from the Mojave Desert. Next up for DARPA and EERC: develop the means to manufacture it in volume at less than $3 a gallon.

This week EERC have announced they are teaming up with Accelergy to start producing a range of low net carbon jet fuels:

Accelergy's integrated CBTL process domestically produces a tunable range of low net-carbon fuels including premium gasoline, diesel, Jet-A, and military JP-5, JP-8, and JP-9 jet fuels. The CBTL process is unique in its ability to maintain a high overall thermal efficiency while significantly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with comparable refining methods.

Tim Vail, Accelergy's CEO said: "As global demand for transportation fuel grows, EERC's scalable, feedstock-flexible process provides a crucial element to our hybrid process, enabling cost-effective, next-generation liquid fuels."

EERC announced a second partnership last week with Whole Energy Systems to bring to market an economically feasible cellulosic fuel process as well, which can be used to produce both bio-diesel and ethanol:

Utilizing cellulosic materials to produce biofuels has several advantages. Cellulosic materials such as wood, grasses, or the nonedible parts of crops, including wheat straw, soybean hulls, and corn cobs, are vast and diverse feedstocks compared to first-generation feedstocks like corn starch or sugarcane. In addition, cellulosic fuels promise to become the lowest-cost biofuel while at the same time provide large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum-derived fuels.

Cellulosics have traditionally suffered from a range of problems apparently not shared by the EERC process. Karl Seck, president of the newly spun-off Mercurius biofuels said, "the EERC Foundation's biorefinery technology is superior to other technologies because it does not depend on enzymes, fermentation, or extreme operating conditions."

Although EERC don't say so, it may not be an accident that these announcements were timed to come out at the same time as the negotiations in Copenhagen. One way or another, it makes one wonder how may ventures have been launched in the buzz surrounding the negotiations.

Greener jet fuel and viable cellulosics—out of the lab, and ramping up for the marketplace. Of course this is no guarantee that these technologies will live up to their promise, but this is innovation worth watching.

Image credit: amjorsfeldt

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