Brazil Studies Feasibility of Jet Fuel from Sugar Cane

If this Brazilian feasibility analysis works out as planned, jet fuel might move over to the sweeter and greener side of the environmental ledger.

Two aircraft manufacturers - Boeing and Embraer S.A. - have joined with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in announcing they will jointly fund a sustainability analysis of renewable jet biofuel made Brazilian sugar cane.

Last month, IDB announced a regional cooperation grant to help public and private institutions develop a sustainable jet biofuels industry.

In its news release, Arnaldo Vieira de Carvalho, leader of the IDB Sustainable Aviation Biofuels Initiative, provided this perspective: “Emerging renewable jet fuel technologies have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, as sugarcane ethanol in Brazil has already proven. This study will examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of alternative jet fuels made from sugarcane.”

The study is intended to evaluate environmental and market conditions associated with using renewable jet fuel.

One producer of the fuel might be Amyris Brasil S.A., a subsidiary of California-based Amyris, a renewable products company that converts plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules that provide petroleum-like products.

As for environmental auditing, the World Wildlife Fund will serve as an independent reviewer and advisor for the analysis. The study will be led by ICONE, a research think-tank in Brazil. The study is scheduled for completion in early 2012.

American states have also expressed interest in sugar cane as a jet fuel, using Brazil’s example. Brazil is currently the world leader in the production of ethanol from sugar cane.

This past June, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley spoke with private researchers and experts at Auburn University about the possibility of building a $300 million plant to convert sugar cane into jet fuel for the U.S. Air Force.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) voted this June on certification of hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuel. Tests both in the laboratory and in the air led by the U.S. Department of Defense have shown that HRJ can be processed from many types of feedstock-from weedy plants to animal fat-to make a fuel chemically identical to the crude-oil based kerosene that powers flight.

In 2010, the U.S. EPA designated Brazilian sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel due to its 61 percent reduction of total life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, including direct and indirect land use change emissions.

“Collaborative research into the cane-to-jet pathway is important for diversifying aviation’s fuel supplies, and also builds on the strong renewable energy cooperation established between the United States and Brazil,” said Boeing Vice President of Environment and Aviation Policy Billy Glover.

“With aviation biofuel now approved for use in commercial jetliners, understanding and ensuring the sustainability of sources that can feed into region supply chains is critical and Brazil has a strong role to play there.”

Reprinted with permission from CleanTechnica