NWABF Looks at Moving Biomass to Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels (NWABF) is doing something few other companies have ever even considered – taking wood waste that the industry calls woody biomass, which is essentially forest floor residuals and sawmill residues and turning it into Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The project is in the second of three phases. Over the next few years, it is on pace to grow into one of the airline industry’s largest sources of SAF in the United States.
Delta Air Lines has selected NWABF to be their primary renewable SAF provider. This Agreement is the result of many years of hard work and attention-demanding diligence displayed by the NWABF Management Team. Delta spent considerable time determining who had the technology and engineering team to deliver a high volume of consistent quality SAF without incurring huge risks to Delta.
General Manager Chris Whitworth believes one big factor is driving the interest in SAF. “I think the big key here is the demand. The demand is now a real entity within itself because of the requirements that are moving forward for airlines to be using SAF. Although we’re not the only method of creating sustainable aviation fuel, we are one of the very few companies using woody biomass and with this Project become one of the main companies out there. The fact that there’s a demand means that we’ve been able to get together with one of the world’s most successful and profitable airlines in the to work out an offtake agreement for the jet fuel that NWABF will be producing. The idea of using forest slash has been around for quite a while, but we’re able to take it to the next level,” Whitworth said in an interview.
The process the company uses is called gasification. NWABF’s gasification process uses forest debris and slash that are turned into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide by reacting to the slash without combustion at incredibly high temperatures. The process is very clean and considerably less harmful to our environment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil jet fuel.
Solid Area Support
The NWABF project is slated for Gray’s Harbor, Washington area, and finding incredible local support. They’re one of the only companies in the world with the technology to produce SAF in high volumes. NWABF has garnered a lot of support on a community level and long-term support at the state level from the forest industry and governmental groups. Their location is ideally suited to meet all the stringent SAF requirements to operate at a volume of 64 million gallons a year.
The demand Whitworth mentioned is coming primarily from a new rule in the aviation industry that takes effect in the industry. This rule now includes a voluntary carbon-offsetting initiative (CORSIA), which begins in the volume of carbon emissions being documented in 2021 and mandatory requirements to lower those carbon emissions by 2026. The company expects to be in a good spot by the time the rule actually takes effect.
More than an Idea
The industry is solidly backing NWABF’s effort. In 2013, the NARA report released by the Department of Agriculture validated the idea behind NWABF’s purpose for existence. In a three-year, $40 million study, the group looked at the availability, the use, and the logistics of using forest residuals and mill residues as a source of SAF. The researchers also considered the logistical challenges, the cost, and the benefits.
Contributors from Washington State University, the University of Washington, Oregon State University, and many from the public and private sectors were included in the report. The result? Everything NWABF had considered was validated. Unlike many other ideas behind SAF, this is not a single company going out on a limb and expending $millions to prove its philosophy and beliefs. Thanks to NARA, it’s a well-researched idea with the power to change the aviation industry forever when it comes to jet fuel.
The advantages for the aviation industry in this space are clear. The renewable fuel NWABF will eventually produce will replace conventional “fossil fuel” jet fuel. It burns cleaner, and it’s as good, if not better, for the jet engines powering airplanes.
“NWABF’s renewable aviation biofuel helps our environment by removing up to 90% of the sulfur that is often generated by conventional jet fuel & petrochemicals. That doesn’t happen with other kinds of aviation fuel,” stated Dave Smoot, CEO of NWABF Parent Company, U. S. Advanced Bio-Fuels, Inc.
The fact that NWABF uses biomass as the feedstock is what makes it so powerful. The other reality for the company, though, is that they’re working to stay in line with current conventional jet fuel prices. Keep in mind that eventually, airlines will be held to a low-carbon fuel standard, so SAF will be a must or those airlines will face monetary penalties.
Additional Areas of Interest
NWABF has already explored areas in the southwest for forest harvesting, as well as down the Pacific coast. Through the continued success of this initial groundbreaking project, other areas may also get on board, too. Interest is high from the aviation industry, the government, as well as a multitude of other companies that want to be involved in this renewable fuel project.
The Story Behind the Biomass
Feedstock providers are quite willing to work with NWABF, as pulling feedstock means eliminating liabilities. Currently, they’re taking the material forestry companies and sawmills don’t want and turning it into an asset. Burning that forest residual and mill residual is a costly proposition, and some mills take the time and resources to remove truckloads of sawdust. Much of what NWABF will use would have eventually ended up in landfills, creating methane gas that is a problem for everyone as methane gas is more potent than co2 emissions.
When Will This Technology Be Ready to Hit the Market?
The timeline behind this project looks like this. For Phase 1, Whitworth said, “We’ve made contacts already, with the city government. We’re talking to environmental companies, permitting companies, also putting together the design study of how this process is going to happen and what our technology partner is going to require. It’s just getting everything prepared, the land and so forth, for Phase 2, the FEED study.
The FEED study takes about a year or less to complete, and at that point, all of the design needs to make certain the required utilities and changes to the property are possible are completed and ready for our review. Once that is complete, Phase 3 kicks-in, which is where the actual construction begins. This phase of the project will take up to 2 1/2 years. Once complete, it will be the largest plant in the United States using woody biomass to liquid (B2L) technology and one of the largest of its kind in the world, capable of producing up to 64 million gallons of SAF a year, for many decades to come.
“NWABF is accomplishing something incredibly unique. Eventually, it could change the paths we are pursuing to facilitate moving to Sustainable Aviation Fuel,” adds David Smoot, U. S. Advanced Bio-Fuels, Inc.’s CEO and the Manager of the Project.
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- CORSIA Timeline