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Commercialization of Drop-in Biofuels

May 13, 2014
This morning, World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology attendees had the opportunity to hear about the future of drop-in Biofuels in the Commercialization of Drop-in Biofuels track during Tuesday’s Breakout Sessions.

The track was kicked off by moderator and presenter, Glenn Johnston of Gevo who gave an overview of drop-in biofuels and how they are substantially similar to gasoline, diesel, or jet fuels. Because of this drop-ins minimize infrastructure compatibility issues.

Johnston then handed the panel off to Perry Toms of Steeper Energy. Perry discussed the significant growth opportunities for drop-in biofuels due to the rising cost of extracting fuels. Steeper has built and installed a continuous-bench scale unit at the University of Aalborg in Denmark and is ready to deploy their technology commercially.

Johnston then stepped back into his role as a speaker. With the world utilizing a lot of unconventional sources for petroleum, Johnston explained, we are starting to see biobased carbon cost become competitive globally. This allows biorefineries to commercially produce not just drop-in biofuels, but other biobased byproducts as well. Utilizing a biobased feedstock allows biorefineries to be more targeted with their production. For Gevo this means they are able to produce jet fuels, drop-in diesel, and biobased plastics.

Chuck Red from ARA began his presentation about their work developing renewable feedstocks for naptha, jet fuel, and renewable diesel. As a U.S. Naval Academy grad and former F-14 pilot, Chuck knows the importance of developing renewable fuels that meet petroleum specifications for jet use. ARA’s products meet all of the petroleum specifications except for one key difference: they’re renewable, not fossil fuels. Through one of its pilot projects, ARA developed a drop-in fuel derived from mustard seeds that was used in an F-20 for the first 100 percent renewable fuel flight. ARA is working with the Navy for their first tests of 100 percent drop-in fuels in their equipment in 2015.

Red’s main take away for drop-in companies working to commercialize their fuels is to focus and keep it simple. Keep your organization lean. Work with great partners. And, take one bite at a time.

Bruce Dannenberg from Phytonix rounded out the Drop-in Biofuels track. Phytonix’s biosynthesis technology does not convert biomass into fuels and chemicals. The biomass converts carbon dioxide directly into the target fuels and chemicals, creating a “4th generation” of biofuels. This should result in low cost and high yield biofuels. Removing the biomass from the biofuels cost equation can eliminate up to 75 percent of the production cost.

The industrial chemicals and potential “drop-in” fuels produced directly from carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water are developed into unblended butanol and pentanol fuel that can be used in gasoline-powered engines with little or no engine modifications. These chemicals can also be used in fuel blends and additives. The savings can help with the overall costs of developing drop-ins allowing it to cost compete with conventional fuels and enter the market without any subsidies.

With the increasing commercial and environmental cost of extracting petroleum and the continued improvements in technology drop-in biofuels are becoming a commercial reality. With their wider distribution, these fuels will help overcome the infrastructure challenges facing the biofuels industry. They will also improve the nation’s economic output with multiple value-added products coming out of their biorefineries. Drop-in biofuels are also advancing our national security goals with utilization by the military and reducing the need for foreign fossil fuel imports.