Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) – The Need of the Hour

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September 22, 2022


Synthetic Biology


Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) – The Need of the Hour

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)

Air travel is essential to economies and global businesses enabling us to visit, meet and mingle with different people. However, the environmental impact of the aviation industry cannot be ignored. The emergence of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) as an alternative to conventional aviation fuel looks promising. Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) can significantly cut down the industry’s carbon footprints, improve air quality and reduce the dependency on the petroleum industry.

There are several startups in this space that have come up with innovative solutions and new technologies to minimize the environmental impact of the aviation industry by producing much cleaner and more sustainable fuels. Here are some of the companies that have risen to the challenge of sourcing and producing greener fuels that are used in transportation.

Producing Jet Fuel Using Alcohol & Natural Gas Liquids

Lanza Jet uses a two-pronged approach both as an established Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) technology provider and as a sustainable fuel producer. With a team of experienced professionals and researchers, Lanza Jet is all set to make sustainable fuel a reality. Lanza Jet is also known for a patented technology that converts alcohol to jet fuel (ATJ) which is known to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least fifty percent. Unlike using food wastes or feeds, the company uses ethanol as a building block to produce sustainable fuels.

The sustainable fuel is produced by converting ethanol to Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (SPK) and Synthetic Paraffinic Diesel (SPD) which can be used by blending it with conventional jet aviation fuel.

The ATJ technology can also be used to produce fuel from ethanol extracted from municipal solid waste, agriculture residues, industrial off-gases, and biomasses.

Some of the benefits of using Lanza Jet technology include flexible fuel sourcing, sustainability, high carbon efficiency, high selectivity to Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), flexible product mix, and low fuel cost.

Similarly, Rocky Mountain GTL converts natural gas liquids into synthetic fuel using EGTL technology. Rocky Mountain GTL achieves its goal of producing sustainable aviation fuel by recycling low-value by-products such as naphtha, propane, and butane into high-quality fuel products.

The process involves using Rocky Mountain GTL’s feedstock flexible EGTL technology along with GreyRock Energy’s “Direct to Fuel” catalyst on LPGs and NGLs for conversion.

Unlike other fuel producers, Rocky Mountain GTL eliminates complex refining by targeting liquid paraffin. As a result, the need for an oxygen plant and hydro-cracker is eradicated enabling them to produce paraffinic fuel in a much more efficient manner. These paraffinic fuels can be fully blended with existing and future diesel engines to offer cleaner transport fuel in comparison to conventional fuels.

The benefits of using paraffinic fuels include reduced emissions of regulated pollutants such as Nitrogen Oxides, Carbon Monoxide, and unburnt hydrocarbons. It assists in better-starting performance under cold weather and is known to have a longer shelf life. The lower sulfur content in paraffinic fuel provides cleaner combustion and lesser engine noise. The presence of aromatic compounds in the fuel means less toxicity to the environment and does not harm human health if fuel comes in direct contact with the people.

Utilizing Feedstocks to Produce Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)

Alder Fuels is a cleantech company that converts forestry and other woody residues into Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) that can be used by commercial airlines. Alder Fuels strives to produce crude oil that is carbon negative which can go on to replace petroleum in the long run.

This low-carbon sustainable crude oil is scalable, cost-competitive, and compatible with the existing petroleum refining and logistics infrastructure. Alder Fuels uses pyrolysis technology to transform agricultural biomass into a liquid which is then treated in a certain way to make it compatible with the existing refineries.

The combination of the fuel life cycle along with eco-refining hydro-processing technology ensures the ability to produce a greener aviation fuel that matches the specification of modern-day jet engines.

Recently, Alder Fuels has got into a partnership with the Government of Colombia to produce Sustainable Aviation fuel thereby reducing GHG emissions by 51 percent in the upcoming years. The main objective of this partnership is to produce SAF from biomass farming.

Similarly, an advanced biofuels chemical company called Gevo uses sugar and starch feedstock to produce a more sustainable fuel source for aviation. The building block used by Gevo is Isobutanol and its derivatives such as octane, jet fuel blendstock, and other drop-in hydrocarbons.

Using Gevo Integrated Fermentation Technology (GIFT), the isobutanol is produced through fermentable sugars found in the corn feedstock. The isobutanol has a stress effect on the fermentation process, Gevo’s GIFT technology overcomes the problem by removing the product during fermentation.

Gevo’s low-carbon jet fuels which are produced using ATJ-SPK can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels in the aviation industry. And recently, Gevo has signed an MoU with ADM to support the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and other low-carbon footprint hydrocarbon fuels.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) | What’s Next?

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) have provided a pathway to replace petroleum-based jet fuels. Unlike fossil fuels, the future of SAF will be a lab outcome based on extensive research on the building blocks found in nature.

As technology evolves constantly, the possibilities for solving climate change are unlimited. As far as the aviation industry is concerned, Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) have been used in nearly 300,000 flights and have already proven to be a game-changer, cutting down emissions by almost 80%. With more people resorting to travel and adventure, SAFs play a crucial role in keeping the environment cleaner and greener in the days to come.

More recently, the first-ever 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)-powered flight was successfully operated by United Airlines. This has encouraged many more flight operators to consider the use of SAF for daily operations, helping the aviation industry to significantly reduce carbon footprints in the coming years.

Moreover, the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) is also cost-effective in comparison to fossil fuels, forcing aviation players to rethink their stand on the use of petroleum for jet engines. With more innovations on the cards, the future of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) certainly looks promising.

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