Honeywell Process Solutions invests in AliphaJet facilities

By Erin Voegele | December 01, 2011

Honeywell Process Solutions has signed on to support the scale-up of a drop-in biofuels process technology developed by California-based AliphaJet Inc. As part of the agreement, Honeywell will invest in the company via the supply of engineering services and equipment. AliphaJet will use Honeywell controls, instrumentation and advanced solutions, including its Experion Process Knowledge Systems and UniSim process simulations and field instrumentation.

According to AliphaJet CEO Jack Oswald, these systems and services will be utilized in both pilot-scale, and commercial-demonstration facilities.  He also noted that Honeywell’s contribution represents a substantial component of the cost of building these plants. “We are very happy that Honeywell has joined our team and is investing in the commercialization of this technology,” Oswald said. “Honeywell's vote of confidence aligns AliphaJet's and Honeywell's technologies in the lead position in this emerging field.”

AliphaJet’s technology features a proprietary catalytic process that can covert renewable oil feedstock into drop-in hydrocarbon fuels, including biobased jet and diesel. Unlike many other biojet production technologies, Oswald said his company’s process is able to remove all the oxygen from the feedstock without the need for substantial amounts of hydrogen or co-location at a traditional oil refinery.

The end goal of the process is to produce true drop-in hydrocarbon fuels, Oswald said, noting that this means the resulting molecules can contain no oxygen. The process works by first removing glycerin from triglyceride molecules. Once the glycerin is removed, you are left with a mix of free fatty acids, and the length of the carbon chain of these molecules often depends upon what type of feedstock is used. The free fatty acids are then processed via AliphaJet’s proprietary catalytic process to remove the oxygen. The result, Oswald said, is a straight chain hydrocarbon. To make biobased jet fuel, off-the-shelf technology is used convert the straight chain hydrocarbon to a branch chains, which brings the freezing point of the fuel down to the specification needed for jet fuel. “It’s really that middle step, the deoxygenation step, that is really where the primary intellectual property is and where the breakthrough is for this process,” he said.

According to Oswald, AliphaJet’s pilot-scale facility is scheduled to be operational within 12 months. While he could not disclose a specific location, Oswald did note that the proposed plant will likely be located adjacent to an existing biodiesel plant in the Midwest. Co-location with an existing biodiesel plant will allow the company to piggy-back on existing infrastructure, significantly reducing the cost and development time for the new facility.

Once operational, Oswald said that the pilot plant will be used to evaluate the technology using a wide range of feedstocks, including animal fats, vegetable oils, jatropha, camelina, pennycress and algae. The testing of these feedstocks will also allow AliphaJet to better determine which feedstocks make better candidates for renewable diesel and biojet production. The company’s initial 20 million gallon commercial-demonstration facility is scheduled to be operational approximately 18 months after the pilot-scale facility begins operation.