US firm United Airlines and US technology company Honeywell have made a joint multimillion-dollar investment in cleantech company Alder Fuels, which produces sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
As part of the investment, United is to buy 1.5 billion gallons (5.68 billion L) of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) over 20 years, the largest SAF purchase deal ever announced by an airline. United says that it is one and a half times the size of the rest of the world’s airlines’ publicly announced SAF commitments combined. Its investment in Alder will company from United Airlines Ventures, a venture fund it set up to invest in start-ups, new technologies and sustainability concepts to help United meet its goal of net zero emissions by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.
Alder converts abundant biomass such as forest and agricultural waste into sustainable low-carbon, drop-in replacement crude oil. Alder’s technology will be combined with Honeywell UOP’s Ecofining process to produce SAF. The technology is traditional hydroprocessing technology, adding hydrogen to remove oxygen from the feedstock then refining it into a bio-synthetic paraffinic kerosene (bio-SPK), called Green Jet Fuel by UOP. It can currently be blended at levels up to 50% as a drop-in replacement for conventional jet fuel, and meets all necessary jet fuel specifications. The partners’ goal is to produce bio-based SAF that can be used as a 100% drop-in replacement for conventional petroleum-based jet fuel. The partners hope to commercialise the technology by 2025.
Bryan Sherbacow, CEO of Alder Fuels, built the world’s first SAF refinery, which uses Honeywell’s technology. The use of waste biomass enables Alder’s production process to be carbon negative over the fuel’s lifecycle. The US Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that forestry and agricultural residues could generate more than 17 billion gallons of jet fuel and displace 75% of US aviation fuel consumption. Alder’s research is supported by the DOE, the US Defense Logistics Agency, and a partnership with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
‘Aviation poses one of the greatest technology challenges for addressing climate change and SAF has demonstrated the greatest potential. However, there is insufficient raw material to meet demand,’ says Sherbacow. ‘Alder’s technology revolutionises SAF production by enabling use of widely available, low-cost and low-carbon feedstock. The industry is now a major step closer to using 100% SAF with our drop-in fuel that accelerates the global transition to a zero-carbon economy.’
Interest in, and use of, SAF is growing, with Kinder Morgan and Neste joining forces to develop a renewable raw materials supply hub, including for SAF, Exolum recently announcing a deal to supply London Heathrow Airport in the UK with SAF and Stanlow Terminals providing storage for a new SAF plant in Ellesmere Port, UK, while BP is building a plant to produce SAF at its Kwinana refinery in Australia. The EU and UK energy transition plans for transport both require SAF.