Airlines Rely on Used Cooking Oil Biofuels

April was a busy month for aircraft flying on biofuels produced from used cooking oil.

Australia’s Qantas launched the country’s first commercial flight using a mixture of refined cooking oil on April 13, 2012, saying it would not survive if it relied solely on traditional jet fuel. The Airbus A330 left Sydney for Adelaide using a 50-50 blend derived from recycled cooking oil and regular jet fuel in what the airline hopes will be the first step towards a sustainable aviation fuel industry in Australia.

“We need to get ready for a future that is not based on traditional jet fuel or frankly we don’t have a future,” Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce is quoted in an AFP news article. “And it’s not just the price of oil that’s the issue – it’s also the price of carbon. From July, Qantas will be the only airline in the world to face liabilities in three jurisdictions, so our sense of urgency is justified.” Europe already imposes a controversial carbon tax on airlines, while New Zealand has a carbon tax that applies to flights within that country by Qantas’ budget carrier Jetstar. Australia’s tax on carbon emissions goes into effect on July 1, 2012.

According to Qantas, the biofuel, which has been certified for use in commercial aviation, has a carbon footprint about 60 percent smaller than that of conventional jet fuel. Jet fuel is the largest operational expense for the Australian carrier, which in February announced it would slash at least 500 jobs and cut costs after an 83 percent slump in net profits.

In March, the airline hiked its fuel surcharge for the second time in two months, saying its fuel costs were expected to rise by $300 million (about $312 million US) in the first six months of 2012, bringing the total cost to $2.25 billion.

The Australian government said it would help Qantas fund a study into the sustainable production and commercialization of aviation biofuels. Under the $500,000 Emerging Renewables Program grant, Qantas will partner with Shell Australia to undertake a feasibility study into the long-term viability of biofuel feedstock and the production of low carbon aviation fuels.

Four days after Qantas’ flight, Boeing and All Nippon Airways made aviation history as a 787 Dreamliner flew for the first time powered in part by sustainable biofuels.

“The 787 is the most environmentally progressive jetliner flying today, combining fuel efficiency and comfort with reduced carbon emissions,” said Billy Glover, vice president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Environment and Aviation Policy. The delivery flight between Boeing’s Delivery Center in Everett, WA, and Tokyo Haneda Airport is also the first ever transpacific biofuel flight.

The 787 flew with biofuel made primarily from used cooking oil and emitted an estimated 30 percent less carbon dioxide emissions when compared to today’s similarly-sized airplanes. Of the reduction in greenhouse gasses, about 10 percent can be attributed to the use of biofuel and approximately 20 percent to the technology and efficiency advancements offered by the Dreamliner. The airplane is made primarily from composite materials.

Boeing is at the forefront of the global effort to develop sustainable aviation biofuels as part of the industry’s strategy for lowering its carbon emissions. In March, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus and Embraer to work together on the development of drop-in, affordable aviation biofuels. The three leading airframe manufacturers agreed to seek collaborative opportunities to speak in unity to government, biofuel producers, and other key stakeholders to support, promote, and accelerate the availability of sustainable new jet fuel sources. All three companies are affiliate members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, which includes 23 leading airlines responsible for approximately 25 percent of annual aviation fuel use.

Grant Helps Students Convert Cooking Oil to Fuel

The Gulfsouth Youth Biodiesel Project in New Orleans, LA, is training out-of-school youths to collect and recycle used cooking oil and process it into biodiesel fuel. The project recently received $50,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education Grants program to introduce students to opportunities in the green collar workforce.

Participants of the Operation Reach, Inc. project will learn about diesel engines and the process of converting used cooking oil and raw feedstock into biodiesel fuel. Young persons between the ages of 16 and 25 who have been impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill are eligible to apply for the youth-led social enterprise project. Operation Reach has commitments from Zeon Global Energy and the Goshen Energy Initiatives to employ graduates, and is partnering with several local restaurants and industrial kitchens across Jefferson and Orleans parishes to collect used cooking oil.

EPA Targets Third Company, Issues Fines in RIN Fraud Case

In late April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation (NOV) to Green Diesel, LLC, of Houston, TX, for generating 60 million invalid biomass-based diesel renewal identification numbers (RINs) from July 16, 2010, through July 15, 2011. The notice says the company generated RINs without producing the requisite volume of renewable fuel and by creating or transferring invalid RINs to another person. This is the third company to be investigated by EPA for fraudulently selling RINs (see “Biofuels Bulletin” in the April 2012 Render). Each RIN is valued at just over one dollar.

One biodiesel fuel trader told Biodiesel Magazine that the NOV issued to Green Diesel has been “a long time coming,” and said rumors suggest more NOVs are coming down the pike. The trader commented that with Green Diesel being a rather large violator, it would definitely impact the biofuels market.

In related news, EPA has settled with about 30 obligated companies over their purchases of fraudulent/invalid RINs in 2010 and 2011, with the largest fines paid by BP Products North America and Citgo Petroleum Corp., each settling for $350,000, and Sunoco, Inc., who agreed to pay $311,100. Fines totaled $3.7 million.

EPA streamlined the violations to provide a fair and efficient mechanism for the prompt resolution of a party’s liability for those violations. The agency stated it took into account this is a relatively new market, but emphasized that all obligated parties must undertake due diligence to ascertain the validity of RINs to be used to meet a renewable volume obligation under the standard.

Emerald Plans Renewable Diesel Plant in Louisiana

Emerald Biofuels, LLC, has announced plans to build an 85 million gallon per year renewable diesel refinery in Louisiana. The facility is permitted and will be located at The Dow Chemical Company’s operating site in Plaquemine, LA, and will use Honeywell’s UOP/Eni EcoFining process technology for the production of Honeywell Green Diesel.

The UOP Ecofining process, developed in conjunction with Italian refiner Eni SpA, uses catalytic hydroprocessing technology to convert natural oils and animal fats to Honeywell Green Diesel. The company states the product is chemically indistinguishable from traditional diesel fuel, features a high cetane value, excellent cold-flow performance, and reduced emissions over both biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel. The fuel can be used without blending.

Emerald and Dow are finalizing a site lease and a site services agreement for Dow to provide a number of services and utilities to support Emerald’s operation. The site has ship, barge, rail, and truck access, and Emerald will be capable of both receiving and shipping by all four modes of transportation. Completion of financing is expected later this year, at such time final engineering and construction will begin.

Founded in 2006, Emerald Biofuels is a Chicago, IL, based transportation fuel company focused on building refineries that utilize renewable feedstocks to produce diesel fuel.

Florida’s New Energy Law Includes Biofuel Credits

Amidst some controversy, new energy legislation in Florida became law despite the lack of a signature by Governor Rick Scott, who declined to sign the bill out of concern whether the state’s taxpayers will receive a return on the bill’s tax credits. The legislation, House Bill 7117, contains several measures aimed at encouraging the development and expansion of renewable energy within Florida, including biofuels production and distribution.

The new law specifically addresses biodiesel, ethanol, and renewable fuel, which is defined as a fuel produced from biomass that is used to displace fossil transportation fuels. Tax credits in the bill apply to biodiesel and ethanol blends from 10 to 100 percent and other renewable fuels, and include:

• a sales tax exemption of up to $1 million per year statewide for materials used in the distribution of biofuels to include fueling infrastructure, transportation, and storage materials (expires July 2016 and is approved on a first-come, first-serve basis); and

• an investment tax credit of up to 75 percent of all capital costs, operation and maintenance costs, and research and development costs related to production, storage, and distribution incurred between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2016, not to exceed $1 million per fiscal year per taxpayer with a limit of $10 million per fiscal year for all taxpayers.

Minnesota Renews Biofuel Mandates

In early May, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law the 2012 Omnibus Agriculture Policy bill with broad bipartisan support. The bill streamlines and modernizes statutes covering food safety enforcement, grain trade, and renewable fuels.

One section of the bill fine-tunes the course of biofuels in Minnesota by extending the state’s 20 percent ethanol mandate for two years and directing agencies to develop recommendations for incorporating biofuels other than ethanol into the mandate. The bill also extends exceptions to the state’s biodiesel requirement for three more years, while directing the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to develop proposals for evaluating the exceptions with an eye toward ending them.

Neste Oil Sells Renewable Diesel to US Market

Neste Oil has recently supplied its first batch of renewable diesel to the United States (US) market. The fuel, which qualifies as an advanced biofuel in the United States, was produced from waste fats at the company’s Porvoo refinery in Finland.

“We are very pleased to see that legislation on renewable fuels and our ability to meet the import regulations for these types of fuels are progressing in various markets,” said Matti Lehmus, Neste Oil’s executive vice president, Oil Products and Renewables. “This enables us to participate and contribute to the greenhouse gas reduction efforts around the world. Our entry into the US renewable fuel market is an important milestone for us, as the US represents a major market for premium-quality biofuels.” 

Neste Oil’s sales of renewable fuels this year have grown as expected. The company sold 305,000 metric tons (82.9 million gallons) of renewable diesel to several dozen customers in over 10 countries during the first quarter of 2012.

Tallow to Feed California Biodiesel Plant

North Star Biofuels has been given the green light to construct a 15 million gallon per year biodiesel facility in Watsonville, CA, that will use tallow from a Washington state renderer. North Star has been operating a test facility in Redwood City, CA, about 65 miles to the north, since July 2011. The plant produces about 2,000 gallons per day using a proprietary closed system process that the company claims yields neither emissions nor smells, is 100 times faster than current biodiesel processes, and uses no water.

The tallow will be shipped by rail from Washington Beef’s Toppenish, WA, plant as well as sourced from other rendering companies and feedstock suppliers. North Star officials anticipate a start-up date of October 2012.

UK Biodiesel Plant to Use Cooking Oil

The United Kingdom’s (UK’s) largest used cooking oil biodiesel plant launched in Liverpool on May 9, 2012. The opening comes on the back of a multi-million pound investment into biodiesel production by Agri Energy.

The advanced processing plant in Bootle will be solely dedicated to producing biodiesel from used cooking oil and will complement Agri’s existing national used cooking oil collection business. The plant has been constructed on a Brownfield site that has a history of reprocessing oils and fats going back over 150 years.

Agri’s biodiesel plant is the culmination of six year’s work and features cutting-edge technology that enables it to produce 16 million liters (4.2 million gallons) of biodiesel per year that meet the European specification for biodiesel. Furthermore, the plant has also been designed to maximize its carbon efficiency savings.

June 2012 RENDER | back