Military Flying High on Tallow-derived Biofuels

By Tina Caparella


The Air Force’s ongoing alternative fuels certification efforts reached a new milestone on August 27, 2010, when a C-17 Globemaster III from Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), CA, flew on all engines using jet fuel blended with a combination of traditional petroleum-based jet fuel, or JP-8, biofuel derived in part from animal fat, and synthetic fuel derived from coal.

The 418th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) at Edwards conducted the flight test over five days. The flight was a first for any Department of Defense aircraft where a 50 percent mix of JP-8 was blended with 25 percent renewable biofuel and 25 percent fuel derived from the Fischer-Tropsch process, essentially liquefied coal or natural gas. It was also the first time an aircraft from Edwards had used fuel derived from beef tallow.

“The C-17 fleet is the biggest Air Force consumer of jet fuel annually,” said Lieutenant General Mark Shackelford, military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. “This is a big step forward in achieving the Air Force’s energy goal of increasing the available supply of fuel by acquiring half of the Air Force’s domestic jet fuel requirement from domestically derived, environmentally friendly alternative sources by 2016.”

For several years the Air Force has been looking at alternate sources of fuel to support their operations, said James Holther, 418 FLTS project engineer for biofuel testing.

“The first thing the Air Force did was look at Fischer-Tropsch fuels that use natural gas or coal as the feedstock and this is just a continuation of that ongoing effort,” he said. “The fuel we’re testing this time around is a biofuel manufactured with biomass as the feedstock.”

The hydro-treated renewable jet fuel, or HRJ, used by the C-17 contains biomass that can be made from either animal fats or plant extracts such as camelina, a weed-like plant not used for food. The HRJ is blended with regular JP-8 jet fuel for the testing to gather data to support Air Force transport aircraft certification on alternative fuels from various feedstocks.

The Air Force Fuels Certification Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, has certified more than 85 percent of all Air Force aircraft to use Fischer-Tropsch derived fuels and is now focusing efforts on certifying aircraft to fly on HRJ biofuel blends.

“When the certification effort is completed, it won’t matter what feedstock or process was used to make the fuel, we will simply call it JP-8,” said Jeff Braun, director of the Air Force Fuel Certification Office. He added that his office tests and manages certification of “drop-in” alternative fuel blends that will require no modification to aircraft or ground equipment. It also would need to provide the desired performance and burn as clean as or cleaner than current JP-8, as demonstrated during the ground engine emission evaluation conducted as part of the C-17 test program.

The testing process featured the C-17 flying with different combinations of HRJ and JP-8 while performing several maneuvers at different altitudes such as decelerating and then accelerating to see how the plane responds with the HRJ mixed in. A successful test is signified when the C-17 performs with little or no difference between the blended fuel and JP-8.

“The C-17 HRJ ground and flight testing went very well, said Patrick Terry, project manager. The tests were uneventful, as was expected based on the results of previous similar HRJ fuel tested at Eglin AFB this year on other aircraft (the A-10 Thunderbolt II). Preliminary results show very little noticeable difference between the performance of the JP-8 and the biofuel blends that were tested.

Canada Releases Renewable Fuel Standard

The Government of Canada has finalized regulations requiring an average renewable fuel content of five percent in gasoline that will go into effect December 15, 2010. The regulation includes a two percent renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil, which will be implemented upon a successful demonstration of technical feasibility under the range of Canadian conditions and be put in place by an amendment to the renewable fuel regulation.

The Canadian biodiesel industry anticipates the government will establish a start date for the two percent renewable content in diesel fuel for some time in the second quarter of 2011.

These regulations are one pillar of the government’s broader Renewable Fuels Strategy. When fully implemented, the strategy’s two regulatory requirements combined with provincial regulations will ensure a total volume of renewable fuel that will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to four megatons in 2012 – about the equivalent of taking one million vehicles off the road.

These regulations are a key initiative in support of Canada’s commitment to reduce the country’s total GHG emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. In addition, the Government of Canada is working with the United States towards common North American standards for regulating GHG emissions from vehicles, and has recently published draft regulations for vehicle tailpipe emissions under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act that are aligned with those of the United States.

Canadian Companies Team Up to Boost Biodiesel

A new strategic partnership between Rothsay Biodiesel, a division of Maple Leaf Foods, Inc., and petroleum distributor FS Partners, will deliver blended biodiesel to Rothsay’s fleets in Ontario, Canada, and provide the infrastructure to expand the use of Rothsay’s blended biodiesel into other Maple Leaf Foods’ fleets in the future. Previously, Rothsay would do the blending at each of their sites.

The new partnership considerably enhances Rothsay’s blending and distribution capabilities and expands the availability of biodiesel blended fuels to the marketplace.

“There have been very few petroleum distributors who have offered biodiesel, let alone Canadian-based biodiesel,” said Todd Moser, vice president, Alternative Fuels, Rothsay. “This relationship makes this more of a reality.”

Clemson Engineering Gets Biofuel Equipment

A new piece of equipment for the Clemson University biosystems engineering program will help researchers conduct novel research on new biomass sources, such as algae and fungi. 

“The new $125,000 mobile biofuels processing plant delivered from Piedmont Biofuels in North Carolina is a state-of-the-art pilot facility that will not only give us a valuable research tool for working with plants, microbes, and waste oils, but also will be useful to demonstrate biofuels production for local producers, bioenergy industrial partners, and to the public,” said biosystems engineer Terry Walker. The plant had an initial successful run in early September using waste algal and sunflower oils from Martek Biosciences in Kingstree, SC. The biofuel was then used to cycle back to a generator to achieve net-zero production.

The plant is being developed to convert waste oils to high-grade biodiesel. Walker said support for the purchase came from many sources, including Clemson Public Service Activities; the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences and others at Clemson University in Clemson, SC; Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsboro, NC; and SunStor, Inc., in Greer, SC.

The new mobile facility will be showcased at the annual biomass meeting this fall at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center. The meeting is being sponsored by Clemson University, the South Carolina State Energy Office, and the Biomass Council.

Europe Investigating Claim of U.S. Biodiesel Circumvention

The European Commission (EC) has formally launched another investigation into U.S. biodiesel exports to the European Union (EU), this time after the European Biodiesel Board (EBB) filed a complaint in June 2010 that the European biodiesel industry “is still being injured by cheap biodiesel imports from the United States that are circumventing anti-dumping and countervailing measures put in place last year.”

In March 2009, the EC began imposing provisional duties that later became permanent tariffs for five years on imported U.S. biodiesel following an investigation into U.S. biofuels that began in June 2008 after EBB filed a complaint claiming that for more than two years, U.S. biodiesel was sold in Europe at a substantial discount, even lower than vegetable oil feedstocks purchased by the EU industry for producing biodiesel. EBB is now claiming that soon after March 2009, new patterns in the transatlantic biodiesel trade emerged, with U.S. biodiesel being increasingly exported to the EU via third countries, in particular Canada and Singapore, in order to “fraudulently conceal its U.S. origin.” EBB states that U.S. biodiesel is still being exported directly to the EU in the form of blends not covered by tariffs, typically as a 19 percent biodiesel-diesel blend.

“These practices do not reflect normal commercial practices but are a mere attempt to evade the anti-dumping and countervailing duties,” EBB commented in a press release.

In March 2010, Italian customs authorities seized a large quantity of biodiesel in the port of Venice out of an import of 10,000 tons of biodiesel. The product was declared as of Canadian origin, but EBB claims its “extremely low price signaled it’s likely U.S. origin. The product was namely offered with a $150 to $180 per ton discount compared to EU biodiesel of comparable quality, and at a lower price than soybean oil and rapeseed oil. Material evidences converge to indicate that the biodiesel load seized in Venice is part of wider trans-shipment traffic aimed at evading existing EU anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures on U.S. biodiesel.”

Massachusetts Biodiesel Plant Breaks Ground

In August, Northeast Biodiesel held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new biodiesel plant in Greenfield, MA, that will produce 3.5 million gallons of biodiesel from recycled cooking oil beginning January 2011. The company is investing $2.5 million in the facility and will hire 13 staff to operate the plant. Indirect jobs supported by the plant will include construction and facility maintenance, collectors of recycled cooking oil from local restaurants, biofuel blended home heating oil delivery, and trucking to bring in the recycled oil and other raw materials and to distribute the company’s finished product.

Northeast Biodiesel is a limited liability corporation with Co-op Power as the majority owner. Co-op Power is a sustainable energy cooperative owned by consumers in New England and New York, primarily in Massachusetts. There are 20 other investors who have invested capital in the company.

Montana Awards Alternative Energy Grants

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has awarded $1 million in grants to four entities for projects that will further the development and marketability of renewable energy technologies in the state. The grants are funded with federal recovery dollars.

The four grant applications scored highest among the 15 that were submitted. Among the recipients was Opportunity Link, an economic development agency, which was awarded $125,000 to develop railroad markets for biodiesel. The agency, based in Havre, MT, has organized a partnership between BNSF Railway Company and the Montana State University-Northern Bio-Energy Center to demonstrate the use of a 20 percent biodiesel blend (B20) in a locomotive switch engine. BNSF has agreed to use B20 in a switch engine for one year. Part of the grant will be used by Opportunity Link to coordinate emissions testing and to analyze filters and engine components at the end of the operating period. The test data will be compared to an identical engine operating on conventional fuels over the same period of time.

A $25,000 grant was awarded to Earl Fisher, a Chester-based oilseed processor and biodiesel refinery, to provide more efficient oilseed crushing capacity. The grant will be used to purchase additional oilseed crushing equipment to expand capacity of the plant. The object of the grant is to lower the cost of biodiesel for the Opportunity Link project and to tie into a regional market for biodiesel.

Larger grants were awarded for wind energy ($500,000) and a commercial-scale algae green house that will convert waste wood chips into an organic fertilizer ($350,000).

New York City to Require Biodiesel in Heating Oil

Starting in October 2012, all heating oil sold within New York City, NY, will contain at least two percent biodiesel, as per a bill signed into law in mid-August by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The blend is known as Bioheat, an alternative fuel that is gaining popularity in Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

“New York City consumes one billion gallons of heating oil annually, more than any other city in the United States,” said City Councilman James F. Gennaro, who sponsored the legislation. “This will annually replace 20 million gallons of petroleum with an equal volume of renewable, sustainable, domestically produced biodiesel.” The legislation also limits sulfur in petroleum-based heating oil, which complements a new state law signed in July by Governor David Patterson.

Sprague Energy, a biodiesel and petroleum distributor located in New York State, helped champion the legislation. Metro Fuel Oil Corp., Inc., a large fuel distributor located in the New York City area, is scheduled to open a biodiesel plant in Brooklyn in 2011 that will process used cooking oil from restaurants in New York City into biodiesel.

REG Re-opens Seneca Plant, Acquires New Mexico Facility

In mid-August, Renewable Energy Group (REG) celebrated the re-opening of its 60 million gallon per year biodiesel production and glycerin refining facility in Seneca, IL, formerly owned by Nova Biosource Fuels. REG acquired the plant in April 2010 out of Nova’s bankruptcy.

The facility has three side-by-side 20 million gallon per year biodiesel process units, of which two are currently operating using a variety of raw materials, from inedible corn oil to used cooking oil, vegetable oil, and animal fats. Also on-site is a technical grade glycerin refining facility, raw material and finished product storage, as well as rail car and truck unloading and loading with the potential for barge transportation. Prior to REG’s involvement, the facility had been idle for more than a year.

In late September, REG and ARES Corporation announced REG will acquire biodiesel assets in Clovis, NM, from ARES who will concurrently invest an additional $8 million into REG in an all common stock transaction. ARES Corporation of Burlingame, CA – an engineering, risk management, software/information technology, and project management company – owned the 15 million gallon per year facility.

“In support of RFS2 [Renewable Fuel Standard 2], REG continues to expand its national footprint of production facilities and related logistics to better serve our growing customer base of regional and national businesses,” said Daniel J. Oh, REG president and chief operating officer. “We consider this position in the Southwest to be a long-term, strategic move for our company.”

Wisconsin Biodiesel Producer Receives Grant

Sun Power Biodiesel, LLC, has received over $1.1 million in financial assistance to purchase equipment, use as working capital, and support efforts to create 31 jobs and retain four jobs.

The assistance includes $800,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds provided to Sun Power Biodiesel through Wisconsin’s State Energy Program. The state is also awarding a $349,825 Community Development Block Grant-Public Facilities for Economic Development grant to the City of Cumberland to provide project infrastructure improvements, including water mains, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, street construction (including curb and gutter), electric installation, and lighting

Sun Power Biodiesel is a small biodiesel producer that originally designed its plant to use canola as a feedstock, but apparently is now using mostly yellow grease. The company, which was founded in 2005 and began operations in 2008, operates one plant and has the ability to produce up to three million gallons annually. The company’s chief executive officer told news sources that the facility has endured intermittent operations due to various industry challenges, such as the lapse of a tax credit and modifications to ASTM International biodiesel standards.


Biofuels Bulletin – October 2010 RENDER | back