Biodiesel jet fuel discussed at energy conference

By | March 01, 2005
Biodiesel shared the spotlight with ethanol, wind and hydrogen at Renewable Energy in the Upper Midwest in Grand Forks, N.D., on Feb. 23-24. The event was hosted by the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) and drew approximately 400 participants.

A biodiesel-focused session featured presentations from Leland Tong of Marc IV Consulting and Wayne Seames of UND's Department of Chemical Engineering.

While less than 30 million gallons of biodiesel was produced in the United States in 2004, Tong said the nation currently has the capacity to produce 169 mmgy. Citing an industry report, he said U.S. demand for biodiesel could grow to 300 mmgy by 2012.

According to the USDA, actual production could go as high as 124 million gallons in the next few years," Tong said. "I personally think it could go even higher than that, depending on crude oil prices and feedstock availability."

Seames, an associate professor of chemical engineering at UND, is working in conjunction with the EERC to develop a unique form of biodiesel that could be blended with aviation jet fuel. While the project is still in the early stages, Seames and his colleagues have already tested various blends in a helicopter turbine engine.

"We found that the combustion performance and emissions criteria can be met by soy methyl esters," he said. "It looks promising."
Seames said the ubiquitous cold flow challenge is a primary stumbling block. "At 30,000 feet, you don't want to take any chances," he said.
In addition to analyzing various cold flow additives, Seames said the research team is currently analyzing various crop oils that might have highly suitable characteristics for this particular application. Evening primrose and cuphea are among the most promising plants. However, the most realistic near-term solution is to make chemical modifications to soy methyl esters and other existing crop oils.

If the team is able to find a market for its biodiesel jet fuel, Seames said a production plant specifically dedicated to the product would likely be built in North Dakota. He believes the plant could produce the fuel at a competitive price.

"My 'back of the envelope' calculations show that we could produce this fuel for $2.10 per gallon," Seames said.
 
 
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