Waste products from different sectors are being converted to power the jets of the future. FINN editor-in-chief Alan Peaford explores innovative approaches to sustainable jet fuel production.

The push towards a more sustainable future remains at the top of the agenda for the aviation and aerospace industries, along with surviving the drop in demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the first Sustainable Aviation Fuels conference ahead of European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in 2019, operators grumbled that the cost of biofuels was too high and availability was scarce. The oil industry suggested a lack of demand was also a problem. But 18 months on, things are changing.

Move towards SAFs leads to new partnerships and demonstrations

BP has become the decarbonisation strategic partner for Australian flag carrier Qantas with a $500 million partnership collaborating on projects including advanced sustainable fuels, advocacy for further decarbonisation in the aviation sector, renewable power, carbon management and emerging technology

In the last month, Rolls-Royce announced that it had successfully conducted its first tests on a business jet engine using 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel. The demonstration, conducted at the manufacturer’s facility in Dahlewitz, Germany, came hot on the heels of a similar test using a Trent 1000 engine in the UK.

The experiment, which used a Pearl 700 engine under development for the new Gulfstream G700, confirmed that the company’s current commercial and business jet powerplants could “operate with 100 per cent SAF as a full ‘drop-in’ option” and laid the groundwork for moving this type of fuel towards certification.

Alcohol to jet fuel facility gets €20 million in EU funding

The FLITE consortium, created in December is led by the Netherland’s SkyNRG with technology provided by LanzaTech from the US. The consortium, which includes the Fraunhofer Institute, E4 Tech, Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) and SkyNRG, has announced it will build the first-of-its-kind “LanzaJet” alcohol to jet fuel facility, backed by €20 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

LanzaTech’s Vice President of Government Relations, Laurel Harmon, explained: “The Lanzajet and multi jet process is a new technology that converts ethanol from any source into sustainable aviation fuel and diesel fuel. And the some of the really key properties of this process itself are that it can produce 90 per cent of its product as jet with the remaining balance as diesel, which is a very high proportion of sustainable aviation fuel from these types of technologies.”

The facility will produce more than 37,000 tonnes of total hydrocarbons per year from ethanol sourced from other various suppliers.

Waste products could fuel passenger jets in the future

Senior Project Lead Oskar Meijerink explained that the initial role of SkyNRG was to prove that the use of SAFs was technically possible: “We fuelled the first commercial flight of KLM in 2011. And at that time, we were mostly supplying sustainable aviation fuel to the industry for these initial inauguration flights, let’s say, so the first time across the Atlantic, the first time in Europe, the first time in the Americas, you can name it, and we’ve we’ve supplied it basically. And we’ve supplied over 30 airlines from all continents in the world since.”

SkyNRG was also involved in the 100 per cent sustainable fuel tests carried out by Rolls Royce last month, along with Shell and World Energy. The aviation fuels of the future could be produced from ethanol and other waste products in the future – Harmon said this could be gaseous waste, from the agricultural and forestry sectors and even carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

Planes could be fuelled by captured CO2

At a major sustainability event in the Netherlands, Dutch airline KLM announced it had flown a passenger flight using part sustainably produced synthetic kerosene and is constructing a demonstration factory for sustainable jet fuel using captured CO2 from the air .

The Zenid initiative, which includes SkyNRG and Rotterdam airports and Climeworks, uses a combination of technologies which will focus on CO2-neutral aviation with sustainable synthetic kerosene.

The pace of change within the SAF sector is accelerating – Meijerink explained that will be up to all of us to fund an aviation sector which produces less damaging emissions.

“The aviation industry needs to do their share as well, right? It cannot all be voluntary, and only when the price premium is right. You need to do your share. And there’s going to be mandates for sustainable aviation fuels as well.”

He added: “That will change the market dynamics completely. Because then, airlines and countries are obligated to blend in a certain percentage of renewable fuel. And then we just need to be there to produce for them in the most efficient and sustainable way.”


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