Aircraft-maker Boeing said Tuesday it was seeking regulatory approval to use renewable "green diesel" as jet fuel, which it says is a competitively priced way to curb emissions.
The company said it would work with engine makers, airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration and other interested parties to present research to standard-setting groups and the government to boost the case for a blend of up to 50% renewable diesel and traditional jet fuel.
The use of what is now a ground transportation fuel could curb airline emissions and meet up to 1% (about 600 million gallons) of global commercial jet fuel demand, it said, adding there was "significant" green diesel production in the US, Europe and Singapore.
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In addition, the $3/gallon wholesale cost of green diesel, including US government incentives, is competitive with petroleum jet fuel, Boeing said.
"Boeing, the FAA, engine manufacturers, green diesel producers and others are now compiling a detailed research report that will be submitted to key stakeholders in the fuel approvals process," the company said.
For the fuel to be used commercially, it must be approved by ASTM International, a global standards group. The specifications approved by the ASTM are used by the FAA to define fuel operating limitations for commercial aircraft, FAA spokesman Hank price said.
Boeing is already working with the FAA and other companies including engine makers General Electric and Pratt & Whitney in the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise program (CLEEN). A major goal of the program is to develop "drop-in" sustainable alternative fuels that would require no modifications to aircraft or fuel supply infrastructure.
"FAA is funding engine testing of multiple samples of renewable diesel blended with jet fuel," Price said. "That data will support the research report mentioned in Boeing's release."
Price said the FAA is committed to support the production of 1 billion gallons of renewable aviation fuels by 2018. AVIATION ALTERNATIVES
A fuel buyer for a major US airline was surprised by Boeing's announcement.
"It's interesting," he said. "We're doing some things on the green fuels. But this is the first I've heard about the diesel use; it's all been about jet fuel."
Renewable diesel qualifies for the generation of Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, the device used to show compliance with the US Renewable Fuel Standard. The fuel qualifies as biomass-based diesel and an advanced biofuel, just like biodiesel does, according to National Biodiesel Board spokesman Ben Evans.
A number of companies around the world are producing renewable diesel for on-road use and some, such as the Finnish company Neste oil, have been experimenting with using the same feedstocks that go into on-road renewable diesel to make renewable jet fuel.
In 2012, a 50-50 blend of jet fuel and Neste renewable jet fuel was used to power one engine of a Lufthansa flight between Frankfurt and Washington DC.
Boeing noted that renewable diesel is distinct from traditional biodiesel, which is usually made from plant-based materials. Renewable diesel is virtually identical to petroleum-based diesel at a molecular level, which gives it several advantages, according to Diamond Green Diesel, a joint venture between Darling International and Valero Energy.
"It doesn't have cold start issues or clouding issues like other green diesels may have," Valero spokesman Bill Day said. "It can be blended straight into regular diesel and can be transported by pipeline."
The Diamond Green Diesel JV has a throughput capacity of 10,000 b/d and is currently producing around 9,600 b/d, Day said. The renewable diesel refinery in Norco, Louisiana, is designed to convert over 1 billion ponds of fat into more than 136 million gallons of renewable diesel every year.
Valero currently produces its fuel only for on-road use, mainly in California, which has strict low-sulfur requirements.
Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Kowal said the company's research has shown the renewable diesel is similar to a renewable aviation fuel approved for use by in 2011 by ASTM. Globally, there is about 800 million gallons of green diesel production capacity today, Kowal said.
"This is a huge pot of fuel made around the world in bulk we feel can be used in aviation in addition to other diesel engines," Kowal said. "It would open the door to a significant market for this fuel."
--Gary Gentile, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Beth Evans, email@example.com
--Matthew Kohlman, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Derek Sands, email@example.com