Major Airlines Sign Agreement to Buy Biofuels From Two Producers

While news from the airline industry isn’t exactly positive these days, there is a one bright spot for the environment: in December 15 major airlines from the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Mexico signed a memoranda of understanding (MOU) with two U.S. producers of alternative aviation fuels .

Several airlines have already flown test flights using biofuels or synthetic fuel, and a January 2009 Department of Energy study found a “significant,” 5-12 percent reduction of greenhouse gases over the life cycle of alternative fuel compared with traditional airline fuel.  These domestically produced renewable fuels are not only expected to be more environmentally friendly but also will create more jobs and increase the United States’ overall energy independence.

According to the Air Transport Association of American (ATA), the airlines include Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa German Airlines, Mexicana Airlines, Polar Air Cargo, UPS Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines.  The alternative fuel producers are AltAir Fuels LLC and Rentech, Inc.

Seattle-based AltAir Fuels is negotiating the purchase of nearly 750 million gallons of renewable jet fuel and diesel derived from camelina oil and produced by AltAir.  Camelina is a member of the mustard family and related to canola, growing in short-seasoned fast-growing crops with a high oil content.

The oil ideal for biodiesel, and camelina meal is being used as livestock feed. AltAir will produce the renewable fuel at a new facility located at an existing Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington and should replace approximately 10 percent of the petroleum fuel consumed each year at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The camelina oil will be converted into both alternative jet fuel and diesel and will come from Montana-based Sustainable Oils , developers of the largest camelina oil research program in North America.  The renewable fuel and diesel will be blended with petroleum jet fuel at the Tesoro refinery and transported to the airport through an existing pipeline system.  Camelina oil is one of the most heavily tested renewable fuels, and was used to power two commercial aviation test flights on Japan Airlines and KLM last year.

Rentech, based in Los Angeles, plans to provide alternative jet fuel based on the Fischer-Tropsch process , including the company’s RenJet®, the only alternative jet fuel approved for used in commercial aviation at up to a fifty-fifty blend with traditional jet fuel.  The Fischer-Tropsch chemical process coverts carbon monoxide and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbon fuels, including synthetic diesel and jet fuel.

These fuels burn cleaner than traditional jet fuel. The MOU signed by several airlines and Rentech serves as the basis for a potential agreement by these carriers to buy synthetic fuel from Rentech’s facility in Adams County, Mississippi: the Natchez Project.

This project is expected to contribute significantly to domestic energy security as well as economic growth within Mississippi and the surrounding area, such as the creation of more than 2,100 direct jobs and more than 3,400 indirect jobs during the project’s construction phase.

When complete, it is anticipated that the Natchez Project will produce about 400 million gallons per year of synthetic fuels and chemicals and more than 120 megawatts of clean power from fossil feed stocks.

ATA member airlines and affiliates transport up to 90 percent of all U.S. passenger and cargo traffic.

Article by Julie Mitchell, appearing courtesy of Celsias

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