LanzaJet is currently building a US-based alcohol-to-jet facility known as the Freedom Pines Fuels biorefinery in Soperton, Georgia, which will have a capacity of 10 million gal/year (31,000 mt/year) and is expected to be ready by end-2022.
“If we get the Georgia facility up and running as we expect in 2022, having 10 million gallons of renewable product per year, that is doubling the [SAF] capacity of what is in the globe today,” Samartzis said in an interview on April 13.
LanzaJet is a spin-off of US-based biotech company LanzaTech, which boasts of investors such as energy major Shell, Canada’s Suncor Energy, British Airways and Japan’s All Nippon Airways.
SAF is a renewable alternative to traditional jet fuel, made by converting sustainable feedstocks into fuel. It is mostly manufactured from bio-waste, namely agricultural waste fats and/or oils, or residue raw materials.
This technology of making SAF from ethanol is new and is on top of some other already existing platforms.
Currently, the most common way of producing SAF is through a Hydrocarbons, Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) process, which refines vegetable oils, waste oils, or fats into SAF through hydrogenation.
Ethanol-to-SAF processes are considered less capital and carbon intensive than other existing technologies, producing a much higher yield of SAF, according to Samartzis.
Based on LanzaJet’s technology, it can produce up to 90% of its fuels as SAF, with the remaining 10% as renewable diesel. This is much more than HEFA and Fischer-Tropes processes in which SAF production maxes out at 60-70%, he added.
LanzaJet is close to finalizing its sourcing of lower-carbon ethanol for its Georgia project. The feedstock is expected to come from the US and South America, both of which are big suppliers of waste-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and corn-based ethanol.
The market of SAF is poised to grow steadily in the coming decades as the aviation and energy sector are collaborating more to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.
Samartzis said his company had already inked agreements for the exports of SAF from its Georgia project, and it is also working with many global refiners, which are interested with using its technology.
“[Our investors] have come on board with an initial equity investment… it triggers the opportunity for us to co-develop other projects with them in different parts of the world,” he said.
“It gives us a pipeline of projects to deploy our technology and it gives all of them access to our technology. So, a company like Shell or Suncor, they can deploy our technology in their existing facilities or deploy it independently.”
On April 6, Shell confirmed its investment in LanzaJet, as the energy major looks to gradually trim its future upstream and refining operations and direct more spending to grow its low-carbon businesses.
LanzaJet is also working with a consortium to build an 30,000 mt/year bio-jet plant using ethanol in The Netherlands, which will be online by 2024.
Samartzis conceded that despite the growing appetite for SAF, the market for now remains “very small” compared to fossil-based derived jet fuel, with only 5 million gallons of SAF being produced annually. But with the growing need for energy transition, governments and the public are becoming more aware of the fuels they consume.
“I don’t see supply outstripping demand anytime soon… That being said we are seeing governments in places like Europe that are becoming much more stringent and proactive in saying ‘hey’ we are going to put in place a mandate in which airlines will have to use SAF,” he added.
The French government recently passed a legislation calling all aircraft to use at least 1% biojet fuel by 2022, 2% by 2025 and 5% by 2030.
The SAF market remains tiny in comparison with the amount of jet fuel traded globally, and accounts for only 0.02% of global jet fuel use, according to estimates by Platts.
Samartzis said in spite of the huge difference in costs between SAF and conventional jet fuel (Jet A-1), some companies in the aviation sector were confident that this price would narrow in the coming years.
Policy mechanisms especially in the US and EU along with financial incentives and tax credits for blending and producing cleaner fuels, could really help in reducing the production costs and bring down the prices.
SAF is currently around four times more expensive than conventional jet fuel. Platts assessed SAF in Northwest Europe at $2,069.70/mt on April 14. By comparison, it assessed Northwest European jet fuel cargoes at $541.50/mt.