The Van Trump Report

“LanzaJet” Opens World’s First Ethanol-to-SAF Plant in Georgia

Soperton, Georgia, is now home to the world’s very first ethanol-to-sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production facility. The new LanzaJet Freedom Pines Fuels facility, which celebrated its grand opening on January 24, is projected to produce 10 million gallons of SAF and renewable diesel per year from ethanol. According to LanzaJet, the technology used at the facility will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 70% when compared to fossil jet fuel.

For those not familiar, SAF is a biofuel used as a drop-in replacement for jet fuel that has similar properties but with a smaller carbon footprint. Depending on the feedstock and technologies used to produce it, SAF can reduce life cycle GHG emissions dramatically compared to conventional jet fuel.

LanzaJet, an Illinois-based fuel technology company, says the ethanol-to-jet technology used at the facility stems from a 2010 collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The technology’s first commercial flights were completed with Virgin Atlantic and All Nippon Airways in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

LanzaJet CEO Jimmy Samartzis says ethanol produced from a variety of feedstocks will be trucked in, which will include corn-based ethanol from the Midwest and sugarcane-based ethanol from Brazil. A series of chemical processes that will take place inside the maze of tanks and pipes on the site will convert the ethanol into a more energy-dense fuel needed by aircraft, explained Samartzi. He adds that the fuels provide an immediate tool for airlines to “bend the carbon curve today and to continue to advance toward net-zero and carbon negative fuels in the future.”

While the plant can produce as much as 10 million gallons of SAF and renewable diesel each year, it doesn’t even begin to fulfill demand. Airlines used anywhere from 10 billion to 19 billion of jet fuel per year between 2019 and 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Biden administration has set a goal of producing at least 3 billion gallons of SAFs by 2030 and for SAFs to meet 100% of U.S. aviation fuel demand by 2050..

Even as the industry celebrates another promising end-use for US ethanol, the opening prompted Iowa groups to warn that farmers and ethanol makers in the top US corn-producing state are at risk of missing out on the chance to profit from the developing market for SAF.

“No Iowa ethanol plant currently has a carbon intensity score low enough to qualify as an ingredient to make SAF,” the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) and Iowa Corn Promotion Board said in a joint statement. The groups point out that only one plant in the US is currently using carbon capture and sequestration (CSS) to make SAF-friendly ethanol. “By contrast, Brazil produces over 7 billion gallons of ethanol with a carbon score expected to qualify for SAF production,” the groups said.

Monte Shaw, IRFA Executive director, explained that while ethanol already reduces carbon emissions compared to gasoline, due to the additional processing required to make SAF, the ethanol feedstock needs to have even lower carbon intensity. He says carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the most cost-effective method for ethanol plants to make a substantial cut to CI and qualify for SAF production. “Regardless of individual views on carbon policy, our business is making the products our customers want and right now we can’t do that.”

A study released by IRFA in early January found that Midwest corn farmers stand to gain $441 million in additional income from the 35 billion gallon SAF market. However, this potential cannot be fully realized without CCS for ethanol. The study concluded that without the potential new use for corn for ethanol-to-SAF, the US corn supply is and will continue to grow at a pace that outstrips demand. Either stocks will build, and prices will decline, or a significant amount of corn acreage will need to be pulled out of production. The full study can be found HERE

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