Advancing Alternative FuelsARA engineers and scientists are developing a new process for converting crop oils to biofuels.
Biofuel technologies have drawn considerable attention in recent years as part of a possible solution to the world’s rising demand for fuel. Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA) began targeting this technology in 2006 in response to the challenge set out in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Biofuel Program I. The technology developed by ARA is now at the forefront of efforts to produce crop oil-based fuels for military and commercial markets.
In August 2006, ARA engineer Dr. Lixiong Li proposed a novel way to convert soybean oil to jet fuel (JP-8). Soybean oil was chosen for the initial phase of the project because it accounts for about 75 percent of the nation’s crop oil production. ARA’s process is versatile, however, and can be used with conventional feedstocks as well as emerging ones such as algal oil. The concept was proven using soybean and peanut oil, and the team is awaiting samples of alternative oils.
“Our current focus is on crop oils,” said Dr. Li, “but for the future we are looking at applying our process to algal oils, as well as lignocellulosic biomass in general, to creating fuel components for commercial aviation and transportation applications.”
The U.S. Air Force was the team’s initial target market because it is the highest consumer of energy within the Department of Defense, including more than three billion gallons per year of jet fuel, and Air Force leaders have mandated that by the year 2016, 50 percent of aviation fuel must come from alternative or synthetic sources.
In January 2008, Dr. Li received two Florida Farm to Fuel Grants to demonstrate the conversion of Florida-grown crop oils to biofuels, and sacchrification of cellulosic materials for bio-ethanol production, respectively. ARA Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Dr. Frank Maestas and ARA scientist Lynda Liptak began marketing private investors for seed monies to start a biofuel program.
Over the past year, significant progress has been made in technology demonstration. ARA’s process creates biofuel that meets the highest standards of military JP-8 and Navy distillate (ship fuel) requirements. According to Mr. Ed Coppola, an ARA scientist with more than 20 years of experience in the Air Force Fuel Program, the characterization results show that it is potentially superior in terms of compatibility with aircraft systems when compared to petroleum- and coal-based fuel, including better low-temperature performance, higher thermal stability, and cleaner, more efficient combustion.
The fuel is now being marketed through a potential ARA technology spin-off, for which the business plan is gaining interest by investors since it was selected by New Mexico’s Technology Venture Corporation for the Equity Capital Symposium 2008 and earned a live debut to the local venture capital community. Ms. Liptak also received an award in September from the Rice University Alliance for Most Promising Energy and Clean Technology Company based upon her presentation to the Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.
For more information on (1) ARA’s biofuel venture, contact Lynda Liptak at (505) 816-6364, (2) ARA’s crop oil conversion process, contact Dr. Lixiong Li at (850) 914-3188, and (3) jet fuel processing and related issues, contact Ed Coppola at (850) 914-3188.