FAA doles out $7.7M in funding for biojet fuel development

By Bryan Sims | December 07, 2011

The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded $7.7 million in contracts to eight companies to help accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced drop-in aviation fuels. The FAA funds will be distributed by the Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center out of Washington, D.C.

The contracts address a recommendation issued by the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, which was commissioned by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood last year. The committee, comprised of experts from industry, academia, labor and government, specifically recommended that DOT exercise strong national leadership to promote and display U.S. aviation as a first user of sustainable alternative fuels. The contracts also build on alternative fuel development investments by the Department of Defense, U.S. DOE, USDA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and EPA, as well as by the FAA.

“These new green aviation fuels will use energy sources right here at home,” LaHood said in a statement. “This type of innovation will create good-paying jobs in the airline and energy industries and help protect the environment at the same time.”

Among the eight chosen companies that received funding from the FAA include UOP LLC, a Honeywell company based in Des Plaines, Ill., which was awarded $1.1 million to produce biojet fuel derived from isobutanol to be supplied by Colorado-based Gevo Inc. Isobutanol produced by Gevo can be produced from a variety of starch and sugar feedstocks such as corn. In the future, the two companies envision inedible sources such as corn stover, sugarcane bagasse and wood residues could also be used. UOP plans to deliver 100 gallons of biojet fuel derived from isobutanol to the government in 2012 where, at that time, will be evaluated to ensure that it’s compatible with aircraft engines and that it meets specification for flight.

“We are pleased to work with UOP to enable the development of alcohol-to-jet fuel technology for the refining industry,” said Christopher Ryan, president and chief operating officer of Gevo. “We believe that projects like this one will help accelerate the adoption of this new technology by refiners, the military and airlines to the nation’s benefit and open a new market for isobutanol.”

Roselle, Ill.-based LanzaTech received $3 million to produce low-cost biobased alcohols and chemicals from heavy industrial gas resources, which can then be converted into biojet fuel using technology from LanzaTech’s partner Swedish Biofuels AB. The project also intends to use industrial gases and syngas derived from lignin, a byproduct of cellulosic ethanol production, as a new biomass waste stream for producing biojet fuel.

LanzaTech will be joined by both Imperium Renewables and Battelle Pacific Northwest Division, which will assess potential U.S. commercial production sites and resources. Michigan Technological University will assess the life-cycle benefits of the integration process. A key goal of the project is to produce more than 100 gallons of bioalcohol jet fuel for testing by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Test data will be used as part of the certification process for the alcohol-to-jet fuel pathway.

According to Angelica Hull, managing director of Swedish Biofuels, the project is expected to increase the raw material base for the production of alcohol to biojet fuel.

"It is exciting to see our technology in this forward-looking project, which aims to increase the raw material base for the production of alternative fuels in aviation,” Hull said. “The pathway to jet fuel with alcohol as an intermediate is proving to be a versatile way of producing advanced hydrocarbon fuels. This project will lead to a more rapid commercialization of alcohol-to-jet technology by providing critical fuel data and expanding the resource pool.”

Madison, Wis.-based Virent Energy Systems Inc. received $1.5 million to advance readiness of its alcohol-to-jet fuel production from its 10,000-gallon-per-year demonstration facility in Madison. Under the program, the company intends to demonstrate its expertise in converting a variety of conventional sugars and lignocellulosic biomass into alcohol-based jet fuel under the FAA program.

“The FAA award gets us one step closer to the commercialization of our jet fuel,” said Randy Cortright, founder and chief technology officer of Virent. “The development and analysis accomplished under this award dovetails perfectly with our goals of meeting the jet fuel requirements as required by the American Society for Testing and Materials.”

In addition to the FAA award, Virent has several other initiatives underway supporting catalytic conversion of plant sugars to jet fuel. In October, the company released analytical results for its biobased jet fuel, which was produced with technical collaborator Royal Dutch Shell, indicating that its synthetic jet fuel could likely be used at any ratio up to 100 percent. The testing was completed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. In September, Virent received its largest federal award to date, a $13.4 million DOE award to support the conversion of corn stover to jet fuel.

Remaining companies that received funding by FAA include Velocys Inc. ($1.5 million), Honeywell Aerospace ($280,000), Metron Aviation Inc. ($250,000), Futurepast Inc. ($50,000) and Life Cycle Associates LLC ($25,000).

The awarded contracts stem from work the FAA is doing through the agency’s Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative and the agency’s Continuous Lower Emissions, Energy and Noise program. These public, academic and private sector partnerships include approximately 300 stakeholders from the airline, aerospace, energy, research, state and federal governments.