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Wisconsin company sends renewable jet fuel to Air Force lab for testing

MILWAUKEE — Virent Inc. has shipped its renewable formula jet fuel to a military research lab for testing from a new demonstration plant it has opened in Madison.

The delivery of 100 gallons of the fuel to the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory marks another step in the Madison renewable energy firm's quest to produce renewable fuels at a commercial scale.

Virent commissioned its new demonstration plant in January, under a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The jet fuel must now be tested to meet standards set up by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Testing will take place at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, which in 2011 had given good marks to a more limited amount of Virent test jet fuel.

"This larger sample will help generate the performance data needed to advance the technology toward engine and flight testing," said Tim Edwards of the Air Force Research Lab, in a statement.

"The successful operation of our new distillate demonstration plant and the validation of Virent's plant-based jet fuel will advance our efforts to achieve ASTM-certified jet fuel and to prepare for commercial scaling," said Randy Cortright, Virent co-founder and chief technology officer, in a statement.

Virent, founded in 2001, is licensing technology developed in the chemistry labs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that uses a catalytic process to convert the sugars from plants into biofuels.

Lourdes Maurice of the FAA Office of Environment and Energy said the fuel will be used with industry and government partners that are testing a variety of alternative jet fuels to meet FAA environmental and energy goals.

The new pilot plant in Madison was built to demonstrate Virent's capability of making jet fuel and diesel in addition to renewable gasoline and chemicals, said Megan Weber, a company spokeswoman.

Virent employees designed and built the new demonstration plant, which is capable of producing 5,000 gallons a year.

The company's other pilot plant, which opened in 2010, is capable of producing 10,000 gallons of biogasoline and renewable chemicals a year.

What's unclear is how soon Virent can move from building pilot plants to build a commercial-scale biorefinery — expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The timeline for commercial production is dependent on final commitments for financing which are being actively pursued," Weber said.
 

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