The ITAKA project started in 2012 and finished end of 2016. The panorama for alternative fuels for aviation has significantly changed over these last four years. More conversion technologies have been accepted by the different global quality standards, many airlines have started to engage with alternative fuels, private companies, universities and countries have started programs on the development of alternative fuel for aviation. However, the biojet volume available today is extremely limited and still far from cost parity with fossil jet fuel. During this period of rapid market start-up, the ITAKA consortium has faced and overcome many challenges brought about by the need to adapt the program to these (unforeseen) market changes, in particular the lower fossil jet fuel cost. Also, on the feedstock side, moving from an R&D scale to a commercial one caused some deviations to the initial program. Nevertheless, the project (and its partners) has exceeded key milestones and accomplished important goals that have had a significant, tangible effect on the development of the alternative jet fuel market in Europe, and globally. The main milestone achieved has been to demonstrate the use of biojet blend mixed in the conventional airport fuel systems (tanks, pipelines, hydrants) during conventional operation of the airport (a world’s first achievement, now serving as showcase for other airports around the globe). As a consequence, we have confirmed this logistics mode is economically viable, technically feasible and fully compliant with airport operations and users. Since the end of 2015, all flights departing from Oslo airport (Gardermoen) have used a biojet fuel blend (below 3%), which corresponds to about 60,000 flights and about 6 million of passengers. ITAKA provided the fuel to initiate what the airport consortium will continue: supplying biojet fuel on a continuous basis.
Also, and no less relevant, this operation has allowed for the very first time the demonstration of the declaration of the use of biojet fuel in the ETS (Emissions Trading System), from the supply in one country (Norway) to the declaration in another country (Germany, Nabisy system) through a single airline (i.e. Lufthansa). It was expected that the ETS systems would experience difficulties in tracing biofuel that has been produced and used in a different state. In this case, that was solved through a declaration from the biojet producer, which was registered in Nabisy. The experience serves as a basis to provide recommendations to States on how to facilitate the declaration of use of biojet to airlines in the ETS, especially when this fuel has been uploaded in a different country. Conclusions about documentation management can also be used during the ETS review procedure and it is expected to be useful for the implementation of the ICAO CORSIA.
Later in 2016, a smaller volume of fuel entered in a similar way the Amsterdam airport (Schiphol). In this case the aim was demonstrating, for the first time, the administrative procedure for generating bio-tickets (named in The Netherlands HBEs) from the aviation biofuel according to the implementation in The Netherlands of the RED, which allows aviation biofuel to account towards the national renewable energy targets. This demonstration event has been complemented with a deeper study about how this mechanism could be applied quite easily in other States, contributing to reduce the price gap by around 300 €/t.
Such demonstrations have been possible thanks to biojet fuel production 100% made in the EU, with the camelina oil being produced in Spain (accumulated in three seasons, more than 1000 t), and refined to biojet fuel in Finland.
In the process, the consortium has learnt that even at this relatively small scale the availability of sustainable European feedstock is a clear bottleneck: new crops require a long time to expand and become significant in volume, whilstd currently available feedstock is limited and demanded by other sectors or uses. Studies performed within ITAKA have shown that available used cooking oil (UCO) in the EU [~1-1.5 million t] is not sufficient for the current RED targets.
UCO is challenging to be used in technologies like HVO that use a catalyst, because the high risk of contamination and high variability in composition of the feedstock. The project has developed a pre-treatment using pyrolysis that could serve to create an intermediate or complete pathway to solve those hurdles.
Camelina is an oilseed crop that can be sustainably grown by farmers replacing fallow land in Europe. The crop shows better performance in semi-arid regions than other major oilseed crops grown in Europe (such as rapeseed and sunflower, that in those areas cannot substitute the fallow period), mainly due to its drought and frost tolerance.
The camelina oil production has reached a large, commercial scale (more than 15,000 hectares distributed in 4 seasons, 1719 microplots (456 treatments) and 77 demonstration trials) that have allowed optimizing the cultivation protocol and the crop’s expansion strategy. Both elements are a key to accelerate and properly address the expansion process. The two main regions considered in the project, Spain and Romania, offer two very different strategies and performances, representing different options across Europe. Camelina introduction in Spain has been performed in dry land, as a rotation alterative to fallow land. Although, camelina yields are usually low in such scheme, it does not interfere with food production while providing environmental and socioeconomic benefits. Romanian plantations provide higher yields, while increasing development and socioeconomic benefits, with the potential of using polluted lands.
The ITAKA project has deployed large scale camelina plantations during 4 consecutive agronomic campaigns (2012-2016). During this period, there have been a number of exceptional weather conditions: winter and spring droughts as well as unusual rainy harvest conditions. On top of that, camelina plantations have been cultivated in a wide range of climatic and soil conditions. As consequence, camelina yield has varied from 500 to 2,500 kg per hectare, depending on the cultivation and weather/soil conditions. Barley data has been used as an indicator of the land quality. So, a farmer harvesting 3,000 kg/ha of barley in a given year should expect a camelina harvest of 1,500 kg/ha (50%). As camelina is a hardy crop, this correlation increases up to 70% for low yielding areas (< 2,000 kg/ha barley).
ITAKA’s camelina oil content has varied considerably depending on the climatic conditions during spring time (coinciding with the plant’s grain growth), but the average has been in 40-44% range.
Additionally, camelina oil production value chain in Spain has enabled producing other valuable by-products (camelina husks and camelina meal), employed as high quality animal feed. Camelina husks, containing high fibre content (~35%), have been employed as raw material in ruminants animal feed. A camelina farmer generates approximately an amount of camelina husks equal to 20%-25% of its total harvest (considering camelina grains and husks). However the overall level should be kept below 20% in order to allow optimizing processing costs. Camelina meal, containing up to 40% protein, is the vegetable raw material produced in Spain with highest protein content. ITAKA camelina meal has been employed by large Spanish animal feed producers, reducing this way protein imports, mainly from soybeans. Camelina meal produced during the crushing step is roughly double the amount of camelina oil.
It has been demonstrated that sustainable camelina oil can be produced in Europe, in large amounts, with low risk of ILUC (Indirect Land Use Change), generating additional social and economic benefits for the farmers. The project concluded that the GHG (greenhouse gases) savings in a scaled up production can achieve 66% reduction without any further change. Besides, the savings can go over 70% if a fertilization strategy is put in place, using i.e. ammonium sulphate (NH4) instead nitrate (NO3) for dressing fertilization. Higher savings can be achieved in the short term through variety improvement (achieving higher yields) and improving oil extraction.
Also, the two biojet batches produced in the project, one from UCO processed in the USA and the later from camelina oil in the EU, have been used to perform tests in different aircraft fuel systems. Two series of flights where completed. First in 2014, a series of 18 long haul flights from Amsterdam to Aruba, on an Airbus A330-200, was performed using biojet fuel blend in one engine to compare the performance of the two engines. This series, carrying around 4,500 passengers informed about the project, produced a relevant dataset for the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). It was used to confirm that are no significant performance differences, but that the water accumulated in the tanks during flights can be lowered using the synthetic fuel, reducing the maintenance frequency and costs. Later, another series of 80 short haul flights, from Oslo to Amsterdam, on an Embraer E190, carrying about 8,000 passengers, using the camelina biojet blend in both engines, confirmed the no detrimental effects on operation with similar or slightly better fuel consumption and, no variation in fuel gauging systems, as expected.
The flight series were complemented with a series of lab based emission measurements using a testbed Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). APU emissions tests were completed for the two ITAKA fuel batches and baselined against a standard fossil Jet fuel: performance parameters were as expected quite similar, fuel consumption decrease up to 1% (saving fuel and CO2 emissions), and the emitted particulate matter (PM) was decreased up to a 50% for a 50:50 fuel blend. PM emissions are a major air quality concern that are linked with a significant number of premature deaths across Europe. High paraffinic fuels such as HEFA biojet could significantly help to reduce the impact of this pollutant in the vicinity of airports. The information obtained has been supplied to the International Civil Aviation Organization for the development of future standards for aircraft engines.