Thursday, March 22, 2012

Virgin Australia Eyes Eucalyptus Pyrolysis for Renewable Jet Fuel

Advanced catalytic pyrolysis has always been a favourite method of biofuels production among Al Fin energy analysts and consultants. The trick is in finding the right form of cheap and prolific biomass, and combining it with the best catalytic processes and sources of hydrogen. Virgin Australia thinks that Eucalyptus mallee trees are a promising form of biomass, and the company is working with partners to develop viable advanced methods of catalytic fast pyrolysis.
Eucalyptus mallee trees, grown in Western Australia’s wheat belt, are sustainably harvested and converted to a feedstock. Mallee is indigenous to Australia and is well adapted to the environment. It is a suitable sustainable crop because it helps return salt-affected land to a productive state.

Mallee can be planted on farms alongside crops, and provide a range of environmental benefits and contribute to the long term sustainability of the overall farming operation. Growing these trees to make alternative fuels encourages large scale planting, which is expected to bring a range of environmental and social benefits to farmers and rural communities.

The pyrolysis thermal conversion process has yet to be recognized by the world’s fuels standards authorities. Airbus’ role includes supporting the approval and certification process so that Pyrolysis based fuels can be used for the first time in commercial aviation.

The project objective is to have a pilot alternative fuel production plant operating in Australia in the next year. The sustainability analysis is managed by the CRC, Airbus and the UK’s Manchester Metropolitan University.
In order to produce a biofuel that can be used sustainably in our current aircraft, it is important to have members from every part of the supply chain involved. Airbus will bring vast expertise in aircraft manufacturing to the consortium and we are very pleased to have a company of its caliber joining this promising Australian project.

—Virgin Australia Group Executive of Operations Sean Donohue
It is likely that other forms of biomass are more prolific than eucalyptus. But the pyrolysis product of a particular biomass is just as important as the volume, as a feedstock for intensive processing into a final fuel or chemical product.

It is likely to be a decade or more before air carriers will be able to rely upon renewable jet fuels. But developing reliable substitute fuels before they are needed, is the sign of wise leadership.

Once the fascist orthodoxy of carbon hysteria is dethroned and dismantled from Australia's political power structure, Australians are more likely to look to intriguing methods of combining coal and coal seam gas for coal liquefaction. Such an approach to substitute fuels is likely to become economical on a large scale before advanced biofuels, all political constraints aside.

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Blogger Unknown said...

The problem with Mallee is that it produces a high-density multifarious root that grows to an enormous size. When grown alongside arable land the root can extend in many directions for long distances just a few feet under the topsoil. This is not usually a problem with short growth mallee trees but if allowed to grow large, say when a controlled growth forest is abandoned or neglected, the root becomes almost impossible to remove. Farmers typically leave them where they are and work around them. There's an Australian saying "tougher than a Mallee root", to describe something immovable or intractable.

A second problem is that the Mallee wood is one of the hardest woods on earth. This makes it very good for heating since it burns for a long time but it also means it takes a long time to naturally degrade underneath the soil.

Combined, these two problems mean that the mallee root can put arable land out of commission for a very long time. If it becomes an efficient and in-demand source of aircraft fuel an effective method of permanent root extraction (and good policy to regulate this) will need to be developed as well.

2:59 PM  

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