Mazda plans to show off its new Mazda6 “clean diesel” sedan at the Daytona International Speedway’s Rolex 24 endurance race next week, where it will run three high-performance racing versions of the car on renewable, synthetic diesel produced by the company Dynamic Fuels. Since one partner in Dynamic Fuels is the chicken products giant Tyson Foods, you can probably guess where this is going, so let’s skip the chicken-and-the-road jokes and see how it is that chickens could achieve a performance level that won’t result in a 24-hour embarrassment for Mazda.
Renewable, Synthetic Diesel from Chickens
Aside from Tyson, the other partner in the Dynamic Fuels venture is the company Syntroleum, which has also made a name for itself producing synthetic liquid fuels from nonrenewable feedstocks, namely natural gas and coal.
The new synthetic diesel venture is a 75-million-gallon-per-year facility located near Baton Rouge, Louisiana that can process a variety of solid or semi-solid feedstocks into liquid fuel. Naphtha (better known as lighter fluid) and liquid petroleum gas are also churned out as byproducts.
As for those feedstocks, chicken waste from Tyson’s food packaging operations is just the tip of the iceberg. Dynamic Fuels lists a dizzying array of possibilities, primarily chicken fat and inedible fats from pork and beef, as well as recycled cooking oil (mainly from frying) and “flotation fat” recovered from washwater during beef processing.
That’s currently the meat of the Dynamic Fuels menu, which performs a sustainability twofer by using up animal waste that would otherwise go to landfills, to the tune of about 1.5 million pounds per day for this operation alone according to a recent article at forbes.com.
Run Chicken, Run
Sustainability is all well and good, but the real question is how the fuel performs. Part of that question was answered last year, when Dynamic Fuels provided its chickeny renewable synthetic diesel to the U.S. Navy for use in its Green Fleet initiative.
The key, according to Dynamic Fuels, is a process that “produces the exact same molecule that you get from petroleum diesel, without all of the impurities that give petroleum diesel its unique odor and color.”
In contrast to conventional biodiesel refining, the Dynamic Fuels process is similar to petroleum refining, in which hydrotreatment is used to remove all of the oxygen from the finished product. Dynamic Fuels notes that this absence of oxygen provides synthetic diesel with superior performance characteristics compared to conventional biodiesel, particularly in regards to performance in cold weather.
The multi-stage process involves a series of catalytic reactions with hydrogen, which starts by breaking the feedstock molecules (triglycerides) at the oxygen atom, forming a small amount of water along with propane and paraffin. The next stages involve rearranging the carbon atoms to prevent the finished product from solidifying.
Among the other advantages Dynamic Fuels cites, its synthetic fuel can be stored, transported and used on a drop-in basis without requiring any alterations in the existing fuel infrastructure or vehicle engines. The synthetic diesel also boasts a lower sulfur level than conventional biodiesel.
One final note to add is that conventional biodiesel refining results in vast quantities of crude glycerin as a byproduct, which is a problem that the Dynamic Fuels process avoids (researchers are working on commercially viable ways to use crude glycerin, though).
Mazda’s SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel Engine
Aside from putting renewable, synthetic diesel to the test, forbes.com notes that Mazda will be showcasing its new SKYACTIV-D diesel engine, which is designed to cut black carbon and other diesel emissions down to the bone without the expense of conventional pollution controls, as well as providing a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.