Fuel from Fats
Fuels LLC—a 50/50 joint venture of synthetic fuels company
Syntroleum and food giant Tyson Foods—is now successfully
converting animal fats and greases into high quality renewable fuels,
including jet fuel, at its new Louisiana plant.
There are some interesting things going on in renewable energy in
southeast Louisiana, just down the Mississippi River from some of the
biggest oil refineries in the United States.
sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but the jet fuel
for your future flights could come, in part, from byproducts of the
chicken processed for your last dinner.
Louisiana company is now successfully converting animal fats and
greases into high quality renewable fuels. And the
company—Dynamic Fuels LLC— is getting praise for
the fact that, unlike the ethanol and biodiesel industries, it does not
use food ingredients such as corn and soybean oil to produce that fuel.
Fuels began production last fall at 2,500 barrels of fuel per day at
its Geismar, Louisiana, plant and is steadily moving toward its
capacity of 5,000 barrels a day.
company is a 50/50 joint venture of synthetic fuels company Syntroleum,
which provided the process technology for producing the fuel, and food
giant Tyson Foods, which is responsible for the plant's feedstock.
"We're very pleased with the progress at the plant and the quality of
the fuel it's producing," said Bob Ames, vice president and general
manager of Renewable Energy for Tyson Foods.
fuel offers the same benefits of synthetic fuels derived from coal or
natural gas, including substantial performance and environmental
advantages over petroleum-based fuels."
plant is producing some of the highest quality diesel fuel in the
world, and best of all, it is renewable with a carbon footprint 75
percent below that of petroleum diesel, said Gary Roth, chief executive
officer of Syntroleum.
"We can also make renewable, high value specialty distillate products
that can be used in a wide variety of applications such as dry
cleaning, ink cartridges, and drilling fluids, and we are actively
pursuing these markets."
first shipments of fuel started leaving the plant last October.
"There's been tremendous interest in our fuels, and so far, our
customers include a range of fuel distributors and end users, including
the U.S. military," said Ames. Dynamic Fuels has been making jet fuel
for testing by the Air Force Research Laboratory. This is the first
renewable jet fuel tested by the Air Force that has been produced in a
domestic commercial scale facility.
new facility uses Syntroleum's trademarked Bio-Synfining Technology to
produce the renewable fuels from non-food-grade animal fats produced or
sourced by Tyson Foods, such as beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat,
and greases. The plant is designed to produce up to 75 million gallons
of renewable fuels per year.
has developed a number of synthetic fuel processes. The company owns a
process for Fischer-Tropsch (FT) conversion of synthesis gas derived
from biomass, coal, natural gas, and other carbon-based feedstocks into
liquid hydrocarbons, the Synfining Process for upgrading FT liquid
hydrocarbons into middle distillate products such as synthetic diesel
and jet fuels, and the Bio-Synfining technology for converting animal
fat and vegetable oil feedstocks into middle distillate products such
as renewable diesel and jet fuel using inedible fats and greases as
Syntroleum plant venture was a few years in the works, explains Jeff
Bigger, director of the Dynamic Fuels, LLC Management Committee.
"In 2006, Syntroleum was looking at our suite of technologies and what
other applications there might be for those technologies. One of those
technologies was the refining technology where we take the raw
Fischer-Tropsch waxes and refine that into finished fuels—and
it is an adaptation of this synthetic fuel technology that is
in use at the Dynamic Fuels plant in Louisiana."
At the time, there was high interest in biodiesel, and Syntroleum's
engineers determined that animal fats are chemically similar to the raw
FT products that they had already successfully been refining into
"So we started doing some lab and pilot testing, and we confirmed that
our refining technology works really well on renewable
materials—and that we could make synthetic fuel, jet fuel,
and diesel fuels from animal fats, oils, and greases," says Bigger. The
company has determined that the process can handle feedstock from
refined corn or soybean oil right down to greases.
They've run more than 140 feedstocks on a trial basis, everything from
algae oil to seaweed oil. Essentially, Bigger says, the process is
pretty much agnostic in terms of where the fat comes from—the
fat gets converted and can be turned into fuel.
"Over the course of that time, I met with just about everyone in the
industry who produces either a fat, oil, or grease, and talked about
Syntroleum's interest in buying feedstock to build a plant.
"We met with the Tyson folks, and they said they could sell us the low
quality waste fats and greases from their animal processing
businesses—but what they really wanted to do was be our
partner, because they liked what we had developed, and that led to the
formation of the 50/50 joint venture, Dynamic Fuels."
Bigger notes that Syntroleum and Tyson are quite different companies,
but that is a good thing.
"Syntroleum has 19 employees, and Tyson has about 150,000, so we are
very different in size. Syntroleum is an engineering and technology
company, and Tyson is a food processing company, so there is basically
zero overlap in our core competencies and our areas of expertise.
"It is a very complementary relationship. Tyson brings their knowledge
of feedstock, and they have a lot of logistics expertise, and a lot of
knowledge on the regulations side of the business. Syntroleum is made
up of engineers, chemists, scientists, and plant people.
"Syntroleum is basically the technology provider, and it had a lot to
do with getting the plant built and its day-to-day operations. Tyson is
responsible for sourcing feedstock into the plant, and that feedstock
can be either from their own facilities or from other
plants." Tyson is one of the world's largest processors and
marketers of chicken, beef, and pork and the second-largest food
production company in the Fortune 500.
Each partner has contributed their respective expertise to the Dynamic
Fuels venture and plant, but Dynamic has its own staff of 45.
Syntroleum designed the Dynamic Fuels plant in Louisiana specifically
for this type of feedstock.
Customers for the high quality
fuel produced by Dynamic Fuels include a range of fuel distributors and
end users, including the U.S. military. The company has been making jet
fuel for testing by the Air Force Research Laboratory.
"There were some adaptations we had to make to our base technology,"
Bigger said. "One of the things about animal fats is they contain a
fair amount of oxygen—10 to 12 percent—compared to
raw FT products, which contain a fraction of that oxygen. As a result,
there is a tremendous amount of heat release in the reactions, so the
design of the reactor systems in the plant has to be completely
tailored for the feedstocks involved. It's the same basic chemistry for
us, but the heat release is different."
He added that the process also has to be able to treat the feedstock
materials at the front end to eliminate contaminants. With animal fats,
these contaminants can include solid materials, such as hair and bone
chips and a variety of metals, such as iron and copper. "We need to be
able to treat all those materials and get them out of the feedstock
before it goes into the reaction system."
In essence, the Dynamic Fuels plant is not terribly different from an
oil refinery operation, though its product is decidedly greener.
"It's very much like traditional oil refining, with hydrocarbons
processed over a catalyst. What we've done is optimize the catalyst and
the processing conditions to handle the animal fat and grease feedstock
to make the fuel products."
There are benefits, says Bigger, to dealing with this type of feedstock.
"When you convert the feedstock into a hydrocarbon, you get all the
best molecules in petroleum fuels without the bad molecules. Because we
are not working with crude oil, there are not all the contaminants that
are present in crude oil, such as benzene, that are carcinogenic."
Because it has gone through a hydroprocessing reactor, there is
virtually no sulphur in the fuel—less than one part per
million. All of the oxygen has also been removed, so the end product is
a pure hydrocarbon. As a result, the fuel produced has a higher energy
content than biodiesel by about 10 percent, meaning it packs more punch
per gallon in BTUs.
Not surprisingly, the Dynamic Fuels plant—involving some very
specialized processing equipment—had some start-up challenges.
"This is a first of a kind plant, and this plant likes to run at full
rate—it doesn't like to run at partial rates," explains
Bigger. "We've had to run at reduced rates when we've been dealing with
mechanical problems, but as each problem comes up, we analyze the
problem, implement a solution, and the reliability improves.
We've been doing that for about six months, and we've made progress on
the things that were holding us back. Now we're just looking to extend
the reliability of the equipment and have a nice long stable run."
Bigger notes that they have recently been operating at up to 120
percent of the design rate of 5,000 barrels a day.
"We chose the 5,000 barrels a day rate because that's where the economy
of scale curve started to deliver reasonable economics, without the
plant being too large. The problem is that if you're too large, you
have to go greater distances to get enough feedstock to supply that
larger plant. As you go further away, the transportation costs start to
What has been the response in the market to their fuel product?
"People love it," says Bigger. "It meets all the specs and is ASTM D975
diesel. And we have the ability to adjust the reactor operating
conditions to change the properties. We have been making a summer grade
diesel with a -10 degree cloud point, and in the winter, we will adjust
that to a winter grade diesel and a -22 cloud point."
The fuel has a very high cetane value. The cetane number is a
measurement of the combustion quality of diesel fuel during compression
ignition. So when it gets blended in with conventional diesel, it
actually improves the quality of the conventional diesel. The Dynamic
Fuels plant has produced fuel with cetane as high as 88, more than
twice that of the ASTM petroleum diesel specification.
The market for their product varies, reports Bigger.
"We're finding there is a wide range of buyers in the market. Some are
very interested in its characteristics and what the feedstock is. Some
companies, for example, want to make sure we are not using any palm
oil, because of the deforestation in the palm growing regions of the
world. Others are more interested in the qualities of the fuel product."
There is a great deal of interest in what would essentially be
renewable jet fuel, so Dynamic Fuels has been working closely with the
U.S. military "We've supplied test quantities of renewable jet fuel to
the air force for testing, as well as to other engine and air frame
manufacturers. When it gets certified by the ASTM as an acceptable fuel
for use in jets, it will become more interesting to commercial
airlines. The ASTM committee is working on the jet fuel specs right
Tyson and Syntroleum officials remain hopeful Congress will continue
the $1 per gallon renewable diesel tax credit that is currently in
place. Fuel from the Geismar plant qualifies for the credit, which
helps the economic feasibility of the operation and helps recover
"The tax credit is good in terms of providing some certainty in terms
of market values," says Bigger, "but it becomes a real problem when
Congress goes back and forth—the yes, we're doing the credit,
no, we're not, kind of thing. When they push uncertainty on the
industry, it's bad. If the tax credit went away, I expect the value of
Renewable Identification Numbers or RINs, would go up to make up for
the loss of the tax credit."
The Dynamic Fuels agreement between Syntroleum and Tyson calls for
building more plants in the U.S. The company estimates that it is
currently using only about five percent of the available animal fats
and used cooking greases in the U.S. "Up until now, we've been entirely
focused on getting this plant up and running, and when we've
demonstrated a stable operation for a long enough period of time, then
we'll focus our attention on what comes next," says Bigger.
In the meantime, they are making use of what many had considered a
waste product with their one plant.
"We are now creating a market for lower quality fats, oils, and greases
so people who have those kinds of materials are coming to us. We think
this plant is going to open the door for these materials and give them
a home and a market."