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ASTM approves biojet annex for hydroprocessed esters

By Bryan Sims | July 06, 2011

Subcommittee D02.J0 on Aviation Fuels in ASTM International Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants officially approved the addition of the jet fuel annex to the alternative fuel specification D7566 titled “Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons”, which now allows up to a 50/50 blend of biobased components with conventional Jet-A fuel. The new annex will set fuel properties for what’s called “Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids” (HEFA) fuel derived from biomass feedstocks such as camelina, jatropha or algae, as well as production control criteria of the fuel for aviation use. The revised standard was approved July 1.

Aviation fuel producers, distributors, airport fuel farms and airlines in the global aviation community will now be able to verify fuel quality and performance by testing according to the D7566 specification requirements. With this new edition, D7566 includes new, specific requirements for the biobased synthetic fuel component such as thermal stability, distillation control and trace material amounts. After blending with conventional jet fuel, new lubricity, distillation and composition requirements in D7566 must also be met. As a result, the blended jet fuel used in airplanes is essentially identical to conventional jet fuel and doesn’t differ in performance or operability, according to Mark Rumizen, lead on the certification-qualification group for the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) who also helped out on the work to revise the specification.

“Because of the great emphasis on safety when you’re dealing with aviation fuel, the passage of this ballot required a collaborative and cooperative effort between the members of the aviation fuels community,” he said. Representatives from companies across the fuel supply chain, including HEFA fuel producers, aircraft and engine manufacturers and regulatory agencies were involved in the specification development and revision.

The revised specification references numerous other ASTM standards, including tests that measure various properties of the fuel. D7566 fuels also meet the requirements of ASTM D1655, “Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuels”, which has been used by the aviation community for decades for the quality control and distribution of conventional aviation turbine fuel. This allows these new D7566 fuels to be seamlessly integrated into the distribution infrastructure and onto certified aircraft as D1655 fuels.

The newly-revised specification for HEFA blends in Jet-A fuel successfully rides on the coattails of the now widely used Fischer-Tropsch process under the D7566 specification, which was approved by ASTM back in 2009.

Rob Midgley, technology manager of aviation fuels for Shell Aviation, Cheshire Great Britain and a D02 member, noted, “The approval of HEFA as a blending component in jet fuel builds on the great efforts expended by ASTM on approving Fischer-Tropsch components in 2009 and shows that, as a consensus group. ASTM can make great strides while maintaining the safety levels demanded by the aviation sector.”

ASTM’s decision to amend the jet fuel specification was welcomed by various stakeholders within the aviation fuel supply chain, most notably the Air Transport Association of America Inc., the industry trade organization that represents some of the leading U.S. airlines. According to John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for the ATA, it will likely take time for significant volumes of biojet fuel to enter the U.S. market due to competitive hurdles, petroleum price volatility and scarcity of financing for fuel production facilities and other factors, “but there are reasons to expect up to one billion gallons of biofuel to be in annual production by 2020,” he said in an email correspondence. Heimlich added that the worldwide airline industry is projected to spend approximately $176 billion on conventional jet fuel this year.

Prospective biojet fuel suppliers like San Francisco-based algae fuel biotech outfit Solazyme Inc. lauded ASTM’s decision to revise the D7566 jet fuel specification to include biobased blends.

“We applaud the historic ruling by ASTM International, and the continued work of both ATA and CAAFI, to implement sustainable initiatives for the aviation industry,” said Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson in a statement. “[The ruling] approving the use of algae and other sustainably-derived biofuels in commercial flight is a regulatory breakthrough and provides a critical step in the commercialization of advanced, low-carbon biofuels. Solazyme commends these leading industry organizations for their continued commitment to secure alternative energy supplies.”

In June, Solayzme announced the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated its algae-derived jet fuel in a MH-60S Seahawk helicopter. The test flight was completed with a 50/50 blend of Solazyme’s algae-based SolajetHRJ-5 fuel and traditional petroleum-derived jet fuel. According to Solazyme, it is the only company to date to provide the U.S. Navy with microbe-derived advanced aviation and marine fuel. The company also noted that Honeywell’s UOP was the refinery partner on the jet fuel delivery, and has been working with Solazyme since 2009 on multiple contracts with the U.S. military.

Also in late June, Dynamic Fuels LLC, a joint venture between Tyson Foods and Syntroleum, supplied a 50 percent blend of its renewable jet fuel produced at its 75 MMgy facility in Geismar, La., in both engines of a Boeing 737-800 aircraft operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. According to Dynamic Fuels, the flight was a preview of more than 200 commercial flights between Amsterdam and Paris KLM plans to make in September using the same fuel.  

 

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