Shell, British Airways working with waste-to-fuel company to produce sustainable jet fuel

Velocys has received £4.9 million of funding to deliver the next development phase of a waste-to-sustainable jet fuel project that the company is developing in the U.K. with Shell and British Airways.

As part of the funding package a grant of £434,000 has been secured from the Department for Transport (DfT) under the Future Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition (F4C).

The next stage is to include detailed pre-front end engineering and design study and site permitting activities, funded by a combination of the F4C grant and £4.5 million committed by the industry partners including Velocys.

It is one of several efforts around the world to rein in aviation emissions as the sector takes off in tandem with increased incomes in the developing world. The aviation industry has agreed to cap airline emissions at 2020 levels, with the ability of airlines to offset emissions above regulated levels by buying carbon credits from designated environmental projects. Low emission or biofuel sources remain costly amid low levels of production.

The Velocys team is developing the engineering and business case for the construction of a first plant in the U.K. Subject to a final investment decision, expected in the first half of 2020, the plant will take hundreds of thousands of tonnes per year of post-recycled waste, destined for landfill or incineration, and convert it into clean-burning, sustainable fuels, the company said.

The jet fuel produced, to be used by British Airways, is expected to deliver over 70 per cent greenhouse gas reduction and 90 per cent reduction in particulate matter emissions compared with conventional jet fuel. This would contribute to both carbon emissions reductions and local air quality improvements around major airports.

“Successful funding of this next development phase further demonstrates the strength of Velocys' renewable fuels business. Today the U.K. has taken another step forward towards becoming a world leader in low carbon aviation,” David Pummell, CEO of Velocys, said in a statement.

“Government funding, recent policy changes and successful completion of the feasibility study have enabled Velocys and its partners to move forward to the next phase in developing the U.K.'s first waste-to-renewable jet fuel plant. With Shell and British Airways we have a terrific set of partners to complete the project,” said Pummell.

"Shell's ambition is to be a leader in advancing the sustainable solutions that can deliver a low carbon future for the aviation industry," added Anne Anderson, vice-president, Shell Aviation. "In addition to combining innovative technologies with a diverse set of technical expertise and industry backgrounds, this project brings together partners across the aviation industry that share this aim. Biofuels can play a valuable role in a future low carbon energy system, and especially in sectors like aviation where the alternatives to liquid fuels are limited."

In a boost to the long term commercial viability of the project, changes to the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) came into force on April 15. For the first time, renewable jet fuel is to qualify for credits under the RTFO, providing long-term policy support for sustainable aviation fuels.

Decarbonizing aviation

Other efforts to decarbonize the aviation sector include a four-year sustainable aviation fuel research project coordinated by Italy’s RE-CORD (Renewable Energy Consortium for Research and Demonstration) at the University of Florence whose partners include Total. The EU’s Biofuels Flightpath Initiative has a goal of 2Mt/y of aviation biofuels consumption in Europe by 2020. Total’s La Mède biorefinery will have a production target of at least 5,000 tonnes of hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA) sustainable aviation fuel when it opens in mid-2018.

Swedish company RenFuel, a producer of lignin oil (LIGNOL) from lignin in black liquor from the pulp industry, recently announced that after conventional refining, LIGNOL can be mixed into gasoline and diesel as a renewable drop-in fuel and is also very suitable for blending with kerosene, aviation fuel. Borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry, RenFuel’s catalytic process produces a product with properties virtually identical to those of fossil oil, but are accepted as climate-neutral. Plentiful in the Swedish forestry industry, lignin is produced in the range of two and three million tonnes per year, equivalent to about 30-40 per cent of the country’s fossil fuel consumption.

And renewable product developer Neste said this week it is working with Dallas Fort Worth International Airport to explore the use of renewable jet fuel to reduce the airport’s carbon footprint.

Last month, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden reported that the potential for gasification of biomass is huge. “Using only the already existing Swedish energy plants, we could produce renewable fuels equivalent to 10 per cent of the world's aviation fuel, if such a conversion were fully implemented,” Henrik Thunman, professor of Energy Technology at Chalmers, said in a statement.

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