ASTM Approves New Sustainable Jet Fuel Process

 - July 6, 2020, 4:48 PM
Jhoanna Alger, a researcher at the University of Dayton Research Insitute examines a sample of sustainable alternative fuel. The organization has been involved in the development and testing of alternative fuels for the past 15 years. [Photo: University of Dayton Research Institute]

ASTM International, the standards body that assures the testing and safety of any new fuel product, has approved a new alternative jet fuel production pathway, bringing the total available to the aviation industry to seven.

The new process proposed by California-based Fulcrum BioEnergy involves the use of a synthetic crude oil derived from municipal waste, which can be co-processed with petroleum at the refinery level. The latest approval moves the inclusion of sustainable alternative fuel (SAF) further upstream in the process and will allow any standard petroleum refinery to be able to use the synthetic crude oil along with regular crude oil. Most previous alternative jet fuel processes involved blending a refined SAF with conventional Jet-A at the refinery gate.

Fulcrum pioneered a process which involves the use of a Fisher-Tropsch reactor to transform household trash such as otherwise unrecyclable food-contaminated cardboard, paper, and textiles, into a gas. The gas is then converted into a waxy material similar to petroleum, but which doesn’t contain the sulfur, metals, or other contaminants that can be found in normal petroleum.

“Approval of this process is significant for the entire alternative fuel industry, and it was an industry-wide effort to pursue approval,” explained Bruno Miller, Fulcrum’s managing director of fuels and regulatory affairs, adding that other entities joined the push for Fischer-Tropsch co-processing, including oil companies, biofuel producers, and aircraft and engine manufacturers, and the FAA. “Fuels made from petroleum and synthetic crude are cleaner and will help transportation companies decarbonize.”

The announcement of the approval comes as a particular boost to Fulcrum, which is constructing a Sierra BioFuels plant outside of Reno, Nevada. Described as the first “garbage-to-jet-fuel plant in the world," it is expected to become operational later this year and process 175,000 tons of municipal solid waste into 11 million gallons of synthetic crude oil a year.

“Approval by ASTM effectively greenlights the use of the new fuels in commercial and military aviation, because it signals to the industry that they meet all testing criteria for certification as viable and safe products,” said Steve Zabarnick, division head for fuels and combustion at the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), which since 2015 has coordinated the testing and evaluation of all new alternative fuels through the FAA’s D4054 Clearinghouse. D4054 is the ASTM standard dealing with the qualification and approval of alternative jet fuels and additives.

Zabarnick and his team perform most of the initial lab tests on these new fuels and production methods, as well as coordinating further trials such as full-scale engine testing at external facilities. When the testing campaign is completed, a technical report on the results is distributed to engine and airframe OEMs for evaluation, and then passed along to the experts at ASTM for a vote on whether to approve the product.

In another project chaperoned by UDRI, ASTM last month granted approval to a new bio-jet fuel produced in Japan by the IHI Corp. from fast-growing microalgae. According to ASTM’s D7566 Annex 7 standard, the new renewable fuel can be blended with standard Jet-A at a specified ratio and used in commercial aircraft with no modifications required. A demonstration flight using the fuel on a domestic route in Japan is planned for later in the year.