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Flying high on renewable biofuel

When a Falcon 20 commercial jet flying over Canada’s capital city of Ottawa recently logged the first-ever civilian flight powered by 100% renewable biofuel, the trip marked a triumphant conclusion to six years of research at the Panama City offices of Applied Research Associates.

Popular Science called the flight one of 2012’s most-important science events. Biofuels Digest presented its 2012 Best New Fuel award to the company.

Engineers at the company’s north Florida division developed a process using hot water to create biocrude from carinata (“Ethiopian mustard”) seeds, a feedstock crop. In 2010, ARA patented the technology and partnered with Chevron Lummus Global to commercialize it, trademarking the fuel as ReadiJet and ReadiDiesel. A pilot plant producing up to 100 barrels a day, enough to fuel 150 cross-country trips, is planned, and negotiations for commercial-scale production (7,500 cross-country flights) are under way, says Ed Coppola, the company’s fuels principal engineer.

Part of the impetus for the advanced biofuel initiative was a U.S. Air Force mandate requiring half of the Air Force’s jet fuel to be derived by alternative sources by 2015, says Chuck Red, alternative fuels program lead for Applied Research Associates, which is based in Albuquerque, N.M.

ARA’s Panama City location, currently employing 150, is expected to become a center for the new technology development. The company is likely to add high-wage personnel, says Senior Vice President David Artman. Florida agriculture could also benefit: A 6,100-acre carinata test crop this winter near Quincy indicated the crop can flourish in Florida.