Ontario selects Rentech for long-term biojet feedstock supply

By Bryan Sims | May 11, 2011

Los Angeles-based Rentech Inc. has received approval by the Province of Ontario, Canada, to obtain a long-term supply of up to 1.3 million tons per year of Crown timber for the company’s planned biobased jet fuel project, Project Olympiad, located in the Township of White River, Ontario. The proposed wood allotment for Rentech’s planned project is the largest ever awarded in the Provincial Wood Supply Competitive Process administered by the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.

Rentech’s proposed Olympiad project, scheduled to be operational by 2015, is expected to produce approximately 23 million gallons annually of RenJet fuel—Rentech’s trademarked renewable and certified low-carbon jet fuel—via a proprietary process based on Fisher-Tropsch chemistry that, together with gasification and upgrading, is capable of converting syngas from biomass and fossil sources into hydrocarbons that are subsequently upgraded utilizing technology from an alliance with UOP, a Honeywell company. The project will also produce 13 MMgy of biobased naphtha, an intermediate hydrocarbon that can be used for the production of polyethylene for plastics, along with other applications.

Rentech intends to leverage $520 million from the Sustainable Development Technology Canada’s NextGen Biofuels Fund as a potential funding source for the Olympiad Project. After a year of discussions with SDTC, Rentech submitted an application for funding to the NGBF, which funds up to 40 percent to a maximum of $207 million of eligible project development and construction costs, which would be repaid from a percentage of the project’s cash flows.

Working with the Province of Ontario and White River, Rentech has forged a significant partnership with the Pic River First Nation for up to an 18 percent equity interest in the project. The Pic River partnership is expected to create significant opportunities for the Aboriginal community through job creation and advanced skills training. Other Aboriginal communities, such as the Pic Mobert First Nation, will also benefit from regional opportunities.

“Communities such as Pic River and White River that have withstood the industry shift from traditional pulp, paper and sawmills to new uses for Ontario’s forests now have a renewed sense of hope,” said Chief Roy Michano of Pic River First Nation. “We are pleased with our partnership with Rentech, a very forward-thinking company that has embraced First Nations as an integral part of such an ambitious project.”

According to D. Hunt Ramsbottom, president and CEO of Rentech, the planned project is expected to spur much-needed employment to a region that has suffered significant job losses in recent years and revitalize a struggling forestry sector, while contributing to Ontario’s growing high-tech bioenergy economy. The project is expected to bring in an estimated 83 full-time employees and create more than 300 indirect and induced jobs. During peak construction, Ramsbottom expects the project to employ up to 1,000 workers.

“It all comes down to jobs,” Ramsbottom explained to Biorefining Magazine, adding that job-creation was a lynchpin that allowed Rentech to gain widespread provincial and municipal acceptance for the planned project in White River. “It’s a sustainable program and it is renewable fuels that the world needs. You never know what you’re up against when you go through the permitting process, but if you go to a remote area such as White River, and you see those towns that have been decimated by an industry, and you have a sustainable practice, and you’re going to exceed those standards going forward, people are going to embrace that kind of thing.”

Ramsbottom didn’t disclose a specific timeline as to when the project would officially break ground, but added that elements of site preparation, engineering work and permitting are all either underway or will begin soon this year.

Rentech operates a demonstration-scale facility in Commerce City, Colo., deploying its synthetic fuels technology that has produced more than 40,000 gallons of biobased jet fuels. In 2010, a commercial flight flew on a blend of RenJet fuel and conventional Jet-A with no difference in performance when compared to conventional petroleum-based jet fuel.

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