OLD TOWN, Maine –
Recycled paper and cardboard could be the jet fuel of the future.
In the quest for a resilient and secure energy supply chain, Defense Logistics Agency Energy is investing in woody biomass to produce energy.
“The pursuit of alternative energy is necessary to bring forth a robust and sustained domestic alternative fuels industry that will ease dependence on petroleum,” said Lindsey Hicks, the DLA Energy Readiness Program manager for research and development projects and initiatives.
One of DLA Energy’s funded projects is the Biomass to Bio-products Pilot Plant at the University of Maine's Technology Research Center. The plant is working to convert cellulosic material, like recycled paper and cardboard, into jet fuel.
According to a UMaine news release, the plant is capable of processing up to 1 ton of woody biomass per day into chemicals that can be used to manufacture bio-products, including biofuels, bio-chemicals and advanced materials.
Efforts to turn biomass into alternative fuel at UMaine began in 2010 when the DLA Energy Readiness Program awarded the university a three-year contract to complete the development of its fuel conversion technology as a laboratory bench procedure, Hicks said.
Since the conclusion of the initial process development in 2012, UMaine has been working to expand the process to validate actual fuel production capability.
“In fiscal year 2015, they received an award of $4.5 million to initiate the up-scaling development and determine viable co-products to make commercialization more profitable,” Hicks said. “The project was funded as a result of congressional funds set aside by the delegation of Maine for the innovative development of fuels and chemicals from cellulosic (woody) biomass suitable for both military and commercial usage.”
In fiscal year 2018, an additional $5.8 million in congressional funding was added. UMaine intends to explore additional up-scaling options, develop new strategies for producing finished fuel blends through hydrotreating, and develop additional co-product revenue streams to improve the economics of fuel production, Hicks said.
While UMaine has had a good start to the use of woody biomass to generate fuel, the certification process is long and complex.
“Although UMaine’s process has been able to produce laboratory scale amounts of diesel and aviation-grade specification fuel, certifications – particularly for aviation fuel specification acceptance – can take several years,” Hicks said.
While ethanol and biodiesel fuels exist, they are not yet compatible with aviation and marine diesel-grade fuels, he said.
“Acceptable alternatives must be certified to ensure that they display the same chemical, physical and operational integrity of their petroleum counterparts,” he said. “Such fuels are commonly referred to as “drop-in” replacements.”
DLA Energy is assisting UMaine in reaching out to industry and the military to get alternative methods approved, Hicks added.
“To be accepted into commercial automotive diesel fuel specs, there are faster mechanisms that don’t require the rigorous, time-consuming certification efforts necessary for U.S. Naval F-76 marine diesel,” he said.
Although alternative processes are now included in commercial and military fuel specs, DLA Energy has only been able to contract with one supplier providing F-76 fuel containing a 10 to 30 percent biofuel blend component.
“Bulk jet fuel purchases with alternative components have yet to occur,” Hicks said.
As DLA Energy continues to work on renewable energy projects like this one with UMaine, DLA’s R&D efforts stretch across its nine supply chains and range from using robots to modernize distribution processes and building strategic materials to improving combat rations and making batteries lighter, longer lasting and with higher energy.