January 25, 2024 [Canary Media]- LanzaJet will produce millions of gallons of sustainable aviation fuel this year, just as the Biden administration finalizes rules for lucrative SAF tax credits.
A new refinery in Georgia is about to churn out millions of gallons of jet fuel — except the fuel will be made not from petroleum but from plants.
On Wednesday, LanzaJet marked the opening of its Freedom Pines Fuels facility, which uses novel technology to convert ethanol into sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. The biorefinery is the first in the world to deploy an “alcohol-to-jet” process, one that the company claims can curb greenhouse gas emissions by over 70 percent compared to conventional jet fuel.
The plant “is proof of the energy transition accelerating in real time,” said Jennifer Holmgren, the board chair of LanzaJet, which spun out of the Illinois-based company LanzaTech in 2020.
The ribbon-cutting event drew attendance from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Department of Energy officials, as well as the company’s top financial backers. The Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund invested $50 million and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy awarded a $50 million grant, both in 2022, to support construction of the first-of-a-kind facility.
“As we start up the plant, we will continue to refine our technology, while launching our efforts to advance new sustainable fuels projects globally,” Jimmy Samartzis, LanzaJet’s CEO, said in a statement. ‘
A growing push for U.S. sustainable aviation fuel
Freedom Pines Fuels is firing up in Soperton, Georgia at a pivotal moment for the emerging SAF industry.
The Biden administration is pushing to dramatically boost production of lower-carbon jet fuels this decade, including by providing generous tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act. In December, the Treasury Department issued guidelines for which alternative fuels will qualify for the tax credits. The rules, which aren’t yet final, have spurred intense debate among environmental groups and fuel producers over how the federal government should calculate potential emissions reductions.
Globally, air travel accounts for 2 percent of annual energy-related CO2 emissions, a figure that’s set to climb in coming years as passenger air travel soars. Last year, a post-pandemic rebound in flying helped drive up U.S. transportation-related emissions by 1.6 percent relative to 2022 — countering some of the emissions reductions achieved by installing renewable electricity, according to the Rhodium Group.
At their best, SAF can offer airlines an immediate way to start slashing this CO2 pollution until more transformative climate solutions become available. But fuels derived from crops, which can include ethanol, or made from energy-intensive methods may ultimately be just as bad for the climate as fossil jet fuel — or worse, experts say.
“How we produce the fuels is critical,” Pedro Piris-Cabezas, an economist and the lead SAF expert for Environmental Defense Fund, told Canary Media. “The details matter.”
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