ARA partners with Blue Sun for demonstration plant

By Erin Voegele | January 25, 2013

Applied Research Associates Inc. and Blue Sun Energy Inc., an enzymatic biodiesel producer, are partnering to develop a demonstration-scale facility to scale-up a Biofuels Isoconversion Process (BIC) system using technology developed by ARA and Chevron Lummus Global. The process is capable of converting renewable oils into drop-in renewable jet, diesel and gasoline.

According to Chuck Red, ARA biofuels program manager, one unique aspect of his company’s technology is that employs water as a catalyst. The patented process uses high temperatures, high pressure and water convert renewable oil feedstocks into crude oil. To produce hydrocarbon fuels, the renewable crude is reacted with hydrogen using CLG’s Isoconversion catalysts.

Red notes that ARA’s technology is simple, clean and the conversion takes approximately one minute to complete. In addition, the reactor size is small.

ARA and Blue Sun plan to break ground on the demonstration plant in St. Joseph, Mo., during the first quarter of 2013, with operations beginning during the third quarter. According to Red, the capacity of the facility will be 100 barrels per day. If we were to run the plant continuously, it would be capable of producing more than 1 million gallons of fuel per year, he said. However, ARA and Blue Sun plant to operate the facility in one or two month increments, producing approximately 4,000 gallons of fuel per day.

In addition to scaling up the process, Red said a main purpose of the demonstration plant will be to produce large-scale quantities of biobased jet fuel, gasoline and diesel. The fuel will be used to complete ASTM certifications.

According to Red, ARA’s process is feedstock agnostic. To date, the technology has been demonstrated with a wide variety of feedstocks including carinata oil, canola oil, soybean oil, waste vegetable oils and inedible corn oil from distillers grains.

ARA has been working with carinata producer Agrisoma Biosciences Inc. since the beginning of 2011. Last year, the two companies collaborated with the National Research Council of Canada to successfully complete the world’s first civil jet flight on 100 percent drop-in biobased jet fuel. In January, the NRC released test flight data from the demonstration, showing ASA’s biobased jet fuel was cleaner and just as efficient as conventional aviation fuel.

Moving forward, Red said that ARA’s goal is to license the technology. “I think it’s likely that by this time next year we’ll be announcing a commercial product that would start up in about 2015,” he said, noting that the facility can be built quickly, with very low cap ex and op ex expenses. When constructed on a brownfield site, a commercial-scale refinery is expected to cost approximately $1 per gallon of annual production capacity to build.