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Home » Air Force, BioRefineries, Business News/Analysis, certification, Defense, Federal Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Funding/Financing, International, Navy, Policy, Sustainability

As Jet Fuel Prices Soar, a Green Option Nears the Runway

Submitted by on May 24, 2011 – 3:57 pmNo Comment

by Marianne Lavelle   (National Geographic News)  …The standards-setting body ASTM International is set to vote this summer on certification of hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuel.

Tests both in the laboratory and in the air (led by a most prodigious jet fuel consumer, the U.S. Department of Defense) have shown that HRJ can be processed from many types of feedstock—from weedy plants to animal fat—to make a fuel chemically identical to the crude-oil based kerosene that powers flight today.

…But aviation is making an important step in breaking free of its petroleum dependence through biofuel.

The ethanol that is typically used in cars—fuel alcohol refined from grain or sugar cane—would not work in aviation, at least with today’s jet engines, because its energy density (the power it packs per gallon or liter) is too low. But numerous start-up companies around the world have been working with a very different fuel derived from oils that have been extracted from plants, animal fat, or grease. The oils are treated with hydrogen to produce HRJ, synthetic kerosene that is chemically the same as jet fuel. Only carbon dating would reveal that it is not made from fossil fuel.

…Aviation regulators around the world require such certification before HRJ can be used in flights carrying passengers.

A panel of experts on fuel is scheduled to meet in June to consider HRJ, and if they vote to approve—as expected—the question will go to the entire ASTM body for voting later in the summer.

…Only when certification is complete will companies be able to build biorefineries capable of producing substantial quantities of renewable jet fuel, Rekoske said. “It’s difficult as an investor to invest in a project to create a fuel that’s not certified for use,” he explained. “Many of the projects have been waiting for moment of certification, because now they become bankable.”

After certification, Rekoske says he expects airlines will vie to be the first to offer biofuel flights.

…The Pentagon’s push for biofuel is important for spurring alternative fuel development for commercial aviation, because the military can create guaranteed demand that producers need to attract investment to build biorefineries large enough to produce HRJ at a competitive price. As high as costs have soared for petroleum jet fuel, HRJ is sure to be more expensive until production ramps up to large scale.  READ MORE

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