Biofuels Make Headways into Jet Fuel Market

Jets no longer run solely on fuel derived from petroleum, thanks in part to Colorado-based Red Rock Biofuels. They signed contracts with FedEx and Southwest Airlines for "renewable jet fuel" that is derived from wood-based biomass.
July 22, 2015, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"FedEx is set to fly its jets on fuel made by Fort Collins-based Red Rock Biofuels LLC from tree branches and pine needles," writes Mark Jaffee for The Denver Post. "Red Rock announced Tuesday that FedEx has contracted to buy 3 million gallons of jet biofuel a year from a $200 million refinery it is set to build in Lakeview, Ore."

"We've sold out all the jet fuel from the refinery, and now we are working on the diesel fuel," said Terry Kulesa, Red Rock co-founder and president.

"We are using the waste wood from a saw mill — branches, bark, pine needles," Kulesa said. "It is a really cheap feedstock."

"The plant is expected to produce 40% jet fuel, 40% diesel, and 20% naphtha, or 6 million gallons, 6 million and 3 million respectively," writes Jim Lane for BioFuelsDigest.

Explaining Fed Ex's purchase, Joel Murdock, a Fed Ex managing director of strategic projects, said in an e-mail to The Denver Post"We set a strong goal to obtain 30 percent of our jet fuel from alternative sources by 2030."

This is not Red Rock's first major contract for renewable jet fuel. Last year they signed contracts with Southwest Airlines and the U.S. Departments of Navy, Energy and Agriculture, wrote Howard Pankratz for The Denver Post on Sept. 24.

On (Sept. 19), the U.S. Departments of Navy, Energy and Agriculture announced a $210 million investment in the construction of three biorefineries, including Red Rock's plant in Lakeview. The other plants are Emerald Biofuels on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Fulcrum BioEnergy in northern Nevada.

Renewable Jet Fuel is Blended with Petroleum Jet Fuel

Kulesa said the jet fuel bound for Southwest will be shipped by rail to Stockton, Calif., and blended with traditional jet fuel. It then will be trucked to nearby airports in Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose.

How wood wastes are converted into renewable fuel

"The company uses technology that converts wood waste into a synthetic gas by heating it in the absence of oxygen," Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter, writes (subscription only) Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter. "The mixture of hydrogen and carbon is refined through the use of a catalyst to produce clear synthetic crude that can be used in jet fuel, diesel and naphtha."

Financing

Red Rock received a federal grant of $70 million. "In announcing the federal investment, the government said the biofuel plants will help diversify the domestic fuel supply base, "make America's warfighters less beholden to volatile oil markets and strengthen national security," wrote Pankratz.

To help finance the Oregon refinery, "Red Rock announced (in March) that it had also received private funding from Flagship Ventures, a venture firm that finances new technologies," writes Peterka.

For Southwest, it's guarding against price volatility, writes Lane, who adds that EU carbon credits may have influenced the Fedex decision to purchase the renewable jet fuel.

Red Rock will be competing with conventional jet fuel made from low-priced oil. "Kulesa said Southwest will pay the same price for the biofuel as it would for fossil fuel," wrote Pankratz.

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Published on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 in The Denver Post - Business
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