Synthetic Aviation Fuel Plant proposed for Maine

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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Hearth Supporter
Jul 11, 2008
8,979
Northern NH
https://www.mainebiz.biz/article/loring-base-eyed-for-production-of-synthetic-jet-fuel

When the price of oil gets up in the $100 range, these projects start to look economically attractive. Its a Fischer-Tropsch process with some added goodies developed by Germany in between WW1 and WW2. It takes a lot of trees to make a 3 barrels of equivalent fuel. I am surprised the former mill site in Millinocket was not selected as it has the Golden Road network that accesses 1/4 of Maine running through it. Loring still has access to plenty of trees but far less than Millinocket that means they will be hauling the wood farther. These plants typically are billion dollar plus plants to make the economics work out. No doubt they are going to be going out for lots of government funding. The last big syn fuels process funded by the US government did not end well for the government or the taxpayer, Range Fuels https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Range_Fuels Vinod Khosla, a big tech investor reportedly made out pretty well ;)
 
Is there a standard for getting FAA approval or is each manufacturer submitting each product for approval. I don’t see this getting very far very fast. Lot term OK but take lead free AV gas…..
 
So basically they are trying to make synthetic diesel from biomass, except make the hydrocarbon chains slightly shorter and take advantage of the premium pricing of Jet A.
 
So basically they are trying to make synthetic diesel from biomass, except make the hydrocarbon chains slightly shorter and take advantage of the premium pricing of Jet A.
Ding. Ding. The need for the aviation industry to reduce carbon emissions is real. Once the military gets on board (they are probably finding quite a bit of R&D already) I do think this will become viable industry. Are trees the best starting material? I’m not convinced. Row crops just seem better to me for some reason. But Maine has lots of trees and not much of a paper industry left.
 
Ding. Ding. The need for the aviation industry to reduce carbon emissions is real. Once the military gets on board (they are probably finding quite a bit of R&D already) I do think this will become viable industry. Are trees the best starting material? I’m not convinced. Row crops just seem better to me for some reason. But Maine has lots of trees and not much of a paper industry left.

Cool tech and I can think of a few areas around here decimated by forest fire where the standing dead trees might make a good feedstock. Otherwise I guess I'm yet to be convinced that it's a good idea to utilize photosynthesis as a means to produce fuels, including from wood, particularly when it involves clearing virgin land to convert to monocrop agriculture.
 
Cool tech and I can think of a few areas around here decimated by forest fire where the standing dead trees might make a good feedstock. Otherwise I guess I'm yet to be convinced that it's a good idea to utilize photosynthesis as a means to produce fuels, including from wood, particularly when it involves clearing virgin land to convert to monocrop agriculture.
Maybe we will get rid of the 10% ethanol mandate an use that corn for AV gas
 
Folks forget that during the Bush adminstration, there was an incredible concern for running out of oil and a big push for domestic production (pre enhanced oil recovery techniques. (It also helped that Dick Cheney had a lot of business interests in oil support enterprises). The DOE spend a lot of money on studies to see what it would take to replace oil in the US economy (before global warming was a scientifically accepted concept). They came to the conclusion that the most underutilized resource was biomass, particularly the swath of forest along the US and Canadian Border. I have not looked at the study for years but seem to remember with "appropriate intensive management" that that swath of woods was good for 20% of the US oil demand. Appropriate intensive management would be similar to what private firms are doing in the southeast for pellet fuel production. Timberstand conversion to genetically optimized crop trees. Basically, farming softwood trees on a fast rotation at a landscape level. The woods would look a lot different although in my area of Northern New England (Northern NH and NW Maine that practice has been done for 150 years in some cases using the local spruce fir. Its less agressive but take look at Google Earth along the border and the patch cuts are very obvious.

Break wood down and its a mix of two major ingredients, cellulose and lignin and bunch of smaller constituents (like various sugars). Really simplified, the cellulose forms soft fibers while the lignin is the glue that glue the fibers together to make it rigid. Kraft process Pulp mills separate the two and make paper with the cellulose while burning the lignin to make the power and steam to run the process. The various synthetic fuel processes concentrate on the lignin and some of the smaller constituents, while burning off the cellulose to supply power and steam to run the process. heat up the "glue" without oxygen and there is cloud of various molecules that when treated with specific processes cause the molecules to reform into different compounds. Unlike EVs, long distance passenger aviation needs a higher power to weight ratio than batteries will provide , yet they are currently dependent on fossil so a drop in replacement is quite attractive. Both commercial and the US military has trialed 100% renewable jet fuel and various blends and it comes down to who is paying the premium and who is it being paid to?.

The current issue in Maine NH and VT and most likely northern NY is that in order to grow quality timber, the woods need to be thinned generally a couple of times before the remaining timber is mature. This thinning costs a lot and the wood taken out not worth much. There currently is not enough market for the low grade wood produced, so many landowners are just skipping the thinning. This leads to large stands of low grade wood that will take longer to mature and the resulting timber will be lower grade. Therefore, if a jet fuel plant buys the low grade wood, there is more incentive for landowners to do those thinning cuts and eventually saw more high quality wood.

BTW, Northern New England's soils got scraped off by multiple glacial cycles, what is left is terrain made of ground down remains of mountains and the low spots are filled in by what was scraped off, mostly glacial till. The top soil is thin and mixed in with rocks. Its just not suitable in many areas to grow row crops but there is lot of land suitable for growing trees. The spruce/fir mix self regenerates so no need for planting. They mature in 40 to 60 years and if they are not cut, they get over mature and local natural pests like the spruce budworm moves in and wipes them out leaving large stands of dead wood ripe for fires. Winters are still long but softwoods will still photosynthesize so there is some winter growth and as soon as it warms up they are ready to take advantage of the long summer days.
 
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