Partnerships, DOD buy-in seen as key to jet fuel development 

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, March 16, 2015

Creating diverse partnerships and working with the federal government are critical to successfully developing drop-in biofuel for use as jet fuel, industry leaders told the Bioeconomy Leadership Conference today.

“You basically have three types of partners — private equity, strategic partners and the federal government — all of which have different agendas and different goals to achieve,” Fulcrum Bioenergy CEO Jim Macias said. “It can be an exhausting process to negotiate with all of them, but when investors of one type see you have investors of another type interested in your product, it can be very validating for them.”

The Department of Defense is an especially important partner, said Macias, whose company was one of three biofuel companies that each received a $70 million grant from DOD last September to develop 10 million gallons a year of biofuels made from municipal waste.

“That government role is particularly invaluable because you show that to another investor and they know it takes a lot for the Pentagon to invest in your company,” he said.

Glenn Johnston, Gevo’s chief development officer for jet fuel, said working with DOD on biofuel development has been particularly helpful because the Pentagon “has a commitment to making it work.”

“They want to get more certified fuels in place so that they can realize the national security and greenhouse gas reduction benefits,” Johnston said.

The Navy, in particular, has been a champion of biofuel development, with Secretary Ray Mabus leading the charge. The three $70 million grants awarded in September were the culmination of his multi-year effort to use military purchasing power to spur broader industry growth.

Mabus has said that diversifying the services’ fuel sources will help the United States better achieve its broader national security goals. He spoke at the conference Wednesday, when he was awarded its Global Bioenergy Leadership Award.

Today was the third and final day of the conference and was focused on the production of jetfuel for commercial aviation and the military.

Speaking on an earlier panel, Jim Hileman, the Federal Aviation Administration’s chief scientist in the Office of Environment and Energy, explained that commercial aviation and the military were natural partners with the drop-in biofuel industry because of the complex nature of powering jets.

“I can get a car that I can plug into the wall to power it and it will run on batteries,” he said. “But you can’t substitute jet fuel in that way. I can assure you, you will not be flying a commercial airliner or fighter jet over the Atlantic Ocean on solar power. The physics just aren’t there.”