Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



Biofuels Update: From Sawdust And Pine Needles To Jet Fuel

A Colorado company, Red Rock Biofuels, is planning a $200 million biofuels refinery in Lakeview, Oregon where it will refine jet fuel to be used by Southwest Airlines. The refinery will also produce diesel and naptha fuel from its wood pulp stock.

According to the Red Rock Biofuels (RRB) website, the company’s technology platform converts woody biomass to jet, diesel, and naphtha fuels:

“Our process begins with the gasification of woody biomass to produce synthesis gas. This synthesis gas is cleaned and sent to a Fischer-Tropsch unit where it is converted to liquid hydrocarbons. Hydroprocessing refines the liquid hydrocarbons to produce jet, diesel, and naptha fuels.”

Red-Rock-Biofuels_logoUnlike other notorious biofuels made from food crops, like ethanol is from corn, RRB’s Oregon refinery will specialize in refining waste sawdust and pine needles obtained via a long-term agreement with an Oregon sawmill, the Collins Company.

Red Rock Biofuels is headquartered in Fort Collins — home to Colorado State University. To support its Oregon plant, the company received ongoing financial backing through a partnership with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, venture capital firm, Flagship Ventures. Prior to this announcement, RRB received a $70 million federal grant for the biofuels plant.

Flagship is a venture-capital firm that oversees a $900 million portfolio. “Their product saves money for customers and offers a stable alternative to the volatile crude oil market, while reducing carbon emissions — a growing priority for companies,” Brian Baynes, a Flagship partner, said in a statement.

Baynes will become a member of the Red Rock board of directors.

biofuels nozzle shutterstock_195723311

Last September, BiofuelsDigest reported that the US Department of Defense had awarded a total of $210 million in grant money under the Defense Production Act to Emerald Biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy, and Red Rock Bio, towards the construction of biorefineries that produce cost-competitive, drop-in military biofuels.

Under the grants, individual companies will build biorefineries to produce military-spec fuel that is expected to cost the US military, on a weighted average, less than $3.50 per gallon. The program goal is to be cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels, while showing a 50% reduction of emissions compared to conventional fuels. Delivery is expected as soon as 2016.

Terry Kulesa, Red Rock CEO and co-founder, said when all is ready the refinery will process approximately 140,000 tons of needles, sawdust, and tree branches each year, refining 12 million gallons of jet, diesel, and naphtha fuel.

Red Rock signed an agreement in September to provide about 3 million gallons of jet fuel a year to Southwest Airlines.

“Our commitment to sustainability and efficient operations led us on a search for a viable biofuel that uses a sustainable feedstock with a high rate of success,” said Bill Tiffany, Southwest vice president of supply chain, in the press announcement. “Red Rock Biofuel’s technology, economics, and approved use made entering into an agreement for purchase a win-win situation.”

Red Rock was started three years ago as a spin-off of IR1 Group, a biofuels consulting firm created by Kulesa and other members of a team from Pacific Ethanol who had come to Colorado to build an ethanol refinery in the city of Windsor.

Producing biofuel from non-food producing crops, while not a new practice, represents a different approach for industry growth. According to a paper from European Biofuels, most biofuels have been  produced from crops that can also be used for food production (e.g. corn, wheat, sugar cane, sugar beet, palm oil, rape, soy, etc).

Although biofuels offer a number of benefits to society, there has been a global debate in recent years concerning the impacts of biofuels (and bioenergy) on food production and prices, carbon stores (in forests), land use, and related issues.

Now a number of ‘non-food’ feedstocks are potentially available globally for biofuel production. Included among these items are  energy crops, such as Miscanthus, Jatropha, and Short Rotation Copice. The list also includes wastes waste oils, agricultural residues, forestry residues, and algae.

It is important to implement cost-competitive advanced technologies that convert wastes into fuels, ensuring these fuels are compatible with existing engines and infrastructures.

Not all biofuels programs in the United States have been successful, even if the fuels are popular and better for the environment. California abandoned a popular and proven methanol program in 2006, anticipating ethanol production would take its place. Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a highly efficient racing fuel used in races like the Indianapolis 500.

I wrote, “In the book Beyond Oil & Gas: The Methanol Economy, the methanol economy is a suggested future economy in which methanol replaces fossil fuels as a means of energy storage, ground transportation fuel, and raw material for synthetic hydrocarbons and their products.”

“In the 1990s, Nobel-prize-winner George Andrew Olah advocated for the methanol economy and, in 2006, he and two co-authors (G. K. Surya Prakash and Alain Goeppert) published this book on a viable practice for the future. For as good as it might sound, little can be reported on its advancement, especially after California stopped the 85/15 methanol program for FFVs.”

The European Biofuels website emphasizes biofuels production cannot be viewed in isolation.

Biofuels are part of a growing global bioindustry, driven by the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, to decelerate climate change, increase fuel security and develop a greater range of bioproducts. With a growing global population, mean there is increasing local and global competition for land, feedstocks and water for food production (i.e. crops and livestock), non-food use (e.g. timber for construction), bioproducts (e.g. soaps, textiles, biopolymers, etc), and bioenergy (heat and power), as well as liquid biofuels.

Between biofuels research at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado is a good home for a biofuels startup, Kulesa recently told The Denver Post.

Image: Fuel nozzle with biofuel via Shutterstock

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.


You May Also Like


Methanol is like hydrogen. Job one is to decarbonize existing uses before inventing new ones. As a marine fuel, it's not the best choice.


Over the past couple of years, I’ve reached the end of my first set of scenarios for marine decarbonization through 2100. My bets are...


In 2022, seven states and the District of Columbia had more than 10 PEV registrations per thousand people. California led the nation in plug-in...


Last year, Colorado saw its EV uptake pass the symbolically important 10% marker. In the end, 10.5% of new vehicle sales in Colorado were...

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.