University of Maine continues renewable fuel research

By Connie Braesch DLA Energy Public Affairs

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To meet the increasing need for sustainable and efficient fuel resources, Defense Logistics Agency Energy is teaming with the University of Maine to transform forest residues, sawmill residues, municipal solid waste, and construction wood wastes into a hydrocarbon fuel oil. 

In September, UMaine was awarded $4.8 million through the DLA Energy Readiness Program to expand and validate fuel production capability using Maine’s sustainably harvested renewable forest resources.

“UMaine continues research on their patented technology called thermal deoxygenation, or TDO, which has shown to yield jet fuel test samples that meet key specifications,” said Lindsey Hicks, the DLA ERP manager. “Advances in this technology will strengthen the viability of a commercial enterprise that would significantly increase renewable fuels supply options for DLA and the military.”

As the DLA ERP manager, Hicks manages congressional funding earmarked for research and development initiatives that could improve the petroleum, oils and lubricants supply chain. In 2010, the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute at the University of Maine was first awarded a three-year $1.1 million contract to complete the development of its fuel conversion technology as a laboratory bench procedure. A sample of the resulting fuel was tested at Air Force Research Laboratory.

“With the first award from DLA, we were able to show the feasibility of producing and upgrading UMaine TDO oil into jet fuel grade liquid fuels,” said FBRI Director Hemant Pendse. “With sustained continued support from DLA, we have been able to expand our work in coproduct development at industrially relevant scales.”

Since 2015, DLA ERP has allocated additional congressional funding to the program totaling $22.9 million to expand commercialization efforts.

“UMaine is working on capital infrastructure improvements, up-scaling options, the development of strategies for producing finished fuel blends, and the development of co-product revenue streams to improve the economics of fuel production,” Hicks said. “The use of widely available low-cost, and in some cases no-cost, materials translates to a lower cost and price for end use fuels.”

Biofuels produced from forest residue and other biomass may eventually serve to compete with petroleum-derived products currently in the marketplace. Many of these production technologies are nearing commercial viability and may shape the future of a bioeconomy in the U.S. and beyond.

“UMaine’s wood-to-liquid fuels project takes a holistic view of harnessing Maine’s readily available woody biomass resources to create new revenue streams and new options for these resources,” Pendse said. “The project not only helps forest communities but also provides novel technologies for meeting military and civilian renewable liquid fuel needs.” 

In addition to supporting research to convert woody waste to fuel, DLA Energy pursues other alternative fuel and renewable energy sources including solar power, hydrogen power, and other sources. DLA Energy helps military and federal facilities meet energy efficiency and renewable energy goals through its Energy Savings Performance Contracts and Renewable Energy Program.