Flying on Woody Biomass and Camelina: Consortium Seeks Biofuel Answers
by Bruce Dorminey (Renewable Energy World) Aviation remains as much a part of Washington State as its eastern dry-land agriculture or the rain-soaked forests on its mountainous western fringes. But only the alternative energy industry proposes to combine the three in a regional effort to create a green and renewable jet fuel (biojet).
Boeing, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, Lufthansa and Finnair, among others, have all tested aviation biofuel mixes in existing aircraft for use as a drop-in alternative fuel source. But two separate federally-funded $40 million efforts led by Washington State University and the University of Washington as part of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) are aiming to make biojet a regular part of the region’s aviation mix.
NARA’s goal is to ramp up Northwest aviation fuel use to a maximum 50/50 mix of aviation biofuel and conventional jet fuel. In the Northwest, NARA researchers hope to use both oil seeds and wood residues to fuel biojet production.
…Camelina, an oil seed in the same family as rapeseed, could help make this happen. It is normally harvested dry with a wheat combine then crushed to squeeze oil from its seeds. However, 70 percent of its original volume is leftover after crushing and is subsequently sold as animal feed, mostly for chickens or feedlot cattle.
The plant’s economic prospects are brighter in dry-land agricultural areas because land values in eastern Washington and western Montana can accommodate low-value crops, unlike highly-irrigated farmland in Oregon’s Columbia River basin.
Camelina grown in the Northwest would likely initially be used to fuel aircraft at major area airports like Seattle-Tacoma, Portland and Spokane.
…“People who want the Camelina seeds are going to have to pay the farmers enough to make it worth their while economically,” said (NARA Director Ralph) Cavalieri who notes that Camelina to biojet conversion still remains in the pilot stages.
…Camelina represents only one source component of a Northwest biojet market. The rest will likely come from the Northwest’s remaining vast forests of Idaho, Washington, Montana, and Oregon in the form of wood biomass residuals.
Such residuals are often left in slash piles for burning or otherwise sold for pulp. But this raw forest biomass also has the added advantage of being less expensive to buy per ton than Camelina.
…Once the wood conversion technology is fine-tuned, Cavalieri hopes that now shuttered portions of the Northwest’s pulpwood industry infrastructure can be “re-purposed” to produce biojet. READ MORE