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15 Air Carriers Sign Non-Binding MOUs on Synthetic Jet Fuel Purchases with Two Providers: AltAir and RenTech

A core group of 15 commercial airlines has signed non-binding memoranda of understanding (MOUs) for negotiating purchases from two different producers of synthetic jet fuel: AltAir Fuels LLC and RenTech Inc. These alternative fuels will be more environmentally friendly, on a life cycle basis, than today’s petroleum-based jet fuels.

The MOU with AltAir contemplates the production and purchase of up to 750 million gallons of jet fuel and diesel fuel over 10 years (75 million gallons per year) derived from camelina oil. The Rentech MOU contemplates the production and purchase of approximately 250 million gallons per year of synthetic jet fuel derived principally from coal or petroleum coke, with the resultant carbon dioxide sequestered and the carbon footprint potentially further reduced by integrating biomass as a feedstock.

Twelve airlines from the United States, Canada, Germany and Mexico—Air Canada, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa German Airlines, Mexicana Airlines, Polar Air Cargo, United Airlines, UPS Airlines and US Airways—have signed MOUs with both producers. In addition, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines signed the MOU with AltAir Fuels, and Orlando-based AirTran Airways signed the MOU with Rentech.

Today’s announcement reinforces the proactive steps that airlines are taking to stimulate competition in the aviation fuel supply chain, contribute to the creation of green jobs, and promote energy security through economically viable alternatives that also demonstrate environmental benefits.

Our intention as an airline industry is to continue to do our part by supporting the use of alternative fuels. We urge the US government and the investment community also to do their part to further support this critical energy opportunity.

—Glenn Tilton, Air Transport Association of America, Inc. (ATA) Board Chairman and UAL Corporation and United Airlines Chairman, President and CEO

Tilton also noted that discussions with a number of additional alternative-fuel producers about other projects are underway, as are discussions with the US military regarding other cooperative opportunities.

ASTM Certification. In June, the ASTM International Aviation Fuels Subcommittee having responsibility for jet fuel (D02.J0.01) formally voted upon and passed a new fuel specification that will enable use of synthetic fuels in commercial aviation. The new specification constructs a framework to enable the use of multiple alternative fuels (including both non-renewable and renewable blends) for aviation, and targets complete interchangeability with conventional fuels produced to specification D1655.

The initial issue of the specification will enable use of fuels from the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process up to a 50% blend with conventional Jet A. It is expected that the FT approval will be followed by approvals for hydrotreated renewable Jet (HRJ) blends and other alternatives as data from technical evaluations is obtained. (Earlier post.)

AltAir. AltAir Fuels LLC was formed in 2008 to develop projects for the production of jet fuel from renewable and sustainable oils. The company and its partners are designing and building a network of renewable jet-fuel production facilities, with the first plant expected to be running before the end of 2012.

The AltAir Fuels project will initially produce bio-jet fuel (and diesel) at a plant to be located at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash. Bio-jet fuel produced from camelina by AltAir will be piped into the Tesoro refinery facility, where it will be blended with petroleum-based jet fuel, and delivery and servicing issues will be handled at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The jet fuel must meet the then-appropriate ASTM specification for hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuels. The first delivery is expected in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2012.

The facility will have a nameplate capacity of 100 million gallons per year, and is slated to begin operations in 2012. The camelina oil will be sourced from Montana-based Sustainable Oils, which has the largest camelina research program in North America and production contracts with numerous farmers and grower cooperatives.

AltAir has chosen refining technology developed by UOP, LLC, a Honeywell company, which has already produced biojet fuel for various test flights and US military contracts in 2009.

Rentech. Rentech proposes using petroleum coke as feedstock with its Rentech Fischer-Tropsch process. Its Natchez Project in Mississippi as currently contemplated would produce approximately 400 million gallons per year of synthetic fuels and chemicals (including approximately 250 million gallons of synthetic jet fuel) and more than 120 MW of power.

The facility is designed to capture approximately 80% of the carbon dioxide generated in the production process, which will be sold under a long-term agreement with Denbury Resources for enhanced oil recovery to produce otherwise unrecoverable oil at Denbury’s Cranfield oil field in Southwest Mississippi as well as at the company’s oil fields within the greater Gulf Coast area.

The Cranfield oil field is currently hosting a US Department of Energy (DOE)-sponsored carbon dioxide sequestration project that is the first in the nation to inject more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide into an underground rock formation followed by additional injections into the saline portion of the reservoir, more than 10,000 feet below the surface.

In February 2009, a report from the US Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) concluded that coupling a Coal to Liquids (CTL) process with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) yields a fuel with 5-12% less lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to the average emissions profile of petroleum-derived diesel, based on the US national average in 2005.

Adding biomass to the coal in the CTL process (Coal and Biomass to Liquids, CBTL) can reduce the GHG emissions further, according to the study. A mixture of 8% (by weight) biomass and 92% coal can produce fuels which have 20% lower life cycle GHG emissions than petroleum-derived diesel. (Earlier post.)

A separately third-party lifecycle assessment of the carbon footprint of synthetic fuels to be produced at Rentech’s Natchez plant—which includes the use of CCS—concluded that the fuels from the facility would produce 11% to 23% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than would result from fuels produced from conventional crude refining.



Is the legal non-binding memoranda of understanding (MOU) definition putting your company name in the media without any obligation whatsoever?


We may see coal used for synthetic fuels, if coal fired power plants become less popular. What they do with the carbon is another matter. If they can make more fuel using solar hydrogen and oxygen, that might be a bit better. Sequestration will be controversial, because someone has to pay for that.

Henry Gibson

A tax on imported oil will garantee the profitability of synthetic jet fuel or diesel. There was once the Manhatten project and now there must be the Wyoming project that converts coal into jet fuels and diesel. Many man hours and capital can go into this project that will eliminate the importation of fuel into the US.

Fuel from coal can be made with even less CO2 release than fuel from foreign oil. The CO2 even now is being used to put into oil fields in Canada to promote the recovery of more oil from the fields. Some areas that produced natural gas can store much more CO2 than they could natural gas. Layers of water or salt water above the CO2 can keep it in place for millenia.

As more coal is used to produce liquid fuels, nuclear power plants can replace the use of coal and natural gas for electricity and heat. In a very few years CO2 can also be recycled into liquid fuels with nuclear energy. CO2 can be stored as a permanent liquid in deep sea sediments without changing the acidity of the ocean, and it would just replace the water in such sediments. Sedimentary strata could also be located under deep sea rock layers for storage, but this is not necessary. Few organisms live in deep slime and far fewer organisms would be influenced than are presently by the release of CO2 into the air. Automobiles that use ordinary fuels but capture CO2 can use far smaller tanks than those that operate on hydrogen. Several ways are known to capture CO2 in an automobile and many more can be invented. ..HG..


I think that once you convince people that there is MONEY in doing something with the CO2, there will be more interest. Whether using the carbon twice or getting more oil, if you can show that is makes money, people will pay attention.

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