Airlines Opt for Renewable Synthetic Diesel

Recently an announcement was made that eight airlines signed an agreement for the purchase of renewable synthetic diesel fuel for use in GSE at Los Angeles International Airport. The agreement involved ASIG, Rentech Inc. and the initial fuel purchasers: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, UPS Airlines and US Airways.

The fuel will be produced by Rentech at a plant in Rialto, Calif. According to the agreement, the fuel will go into use at LAX in late 2012. The company will supply up to 1.5 million gallons a year of the renewable synthetic diesel, “RenDiesel.”

As a party in the negotiation of the agreement, ASIG will be responsible for the purchase of the fuel based on airline commitments, as well as the transportation and dispensation of the synthetic diesel, according to Larry McMahon, vice president – fuel consortiums at ASIG.

McMahon says the agreement has areas of potential growth. For one, the deal does not restrict the fuel to be used at LAX alone and could be delivered to surrounding airports. “The airlines can have it delivered to airports within the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and they can use it in their equipment as they deem necessary,” he says. “If they wanted to divert some to airports such as Orange County or Burbank, they have that option as well.”

McMahon also points out the possibility for additional airlines to sign up under the agreement. “We were offered 100 barrels a day, so other airlines still have the potential to sign up between now and 2012,” he says.

The Technology
Rentech Inc. will produce the RenDiesel at a facility that the company is currently developing in Rialto, Calif. According to Julie Dawoodjee, vice president, investor relations & communications at Rentech Inc., the facility will have a production capacity of 600 barrels per day.

The synthetic fuel is made from 100-percent renewable biomass feedstocks such as woody green waste, such as yard clippings and tree trimmings. The fuel will be produced using Rentech’s biomass gasification technology and Fischer-Tropsch process. Dawoodjee says Rentech has been developing the technology for the last 30 years and has produced, tested and sold its fuel from its Colorado facility.

The end product, the company claims, is a significantly cleaner fuel.

“When you compare renewable diesel to the petroleum-derived low-sulfur diesel, tailpipe emissions from our renewable diesel generate lower amounts of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides,” she says.

According to Dawoodjee, the RenDiesel will generate at least 15 to 30 percent fewer particulates, 40 to 50 percent less carbon monoxide and about 10 to 15 percent fewer nitrogen oxides.

She also says the synthetic diesel is a “drop-in fuel,” capable of use in any type of diesel-powered equipment without the need for engine or infrastructure modification.
At this time the company cannot offer a precise cost for the fuel. “We’re competitive at today’s prices for crude and we’re definitely competitive in the long-term prices for crude,” Dawoodjee says. “We can even potentially charge a premium for the fuels we produce, because of their environmental properties.”