e-Fuels are catching on as way to decarbonise air travel
As the world strives to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), governments across the world have framed policies that incentivise or mandate the production and use of renewable fuels. At the same time, 114 countries have signed on to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), and the global aviation industry has developed a positive target proposing net zero emissions by 2050.
The UAE, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, has created a roadmap for the production of SAF and renewable hydrogen that will meet up to 73% of fuel demand of flight refueling in the country by mid-century. In the US, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Grand Challenge targets 100% of aviation fuel to be SAF by 2050. At the same time, the EU’s RefulEU regulation targets increasing SAF percentage up to 70% in 2050.
While the Middle East is known for its abundant reserves of fossil fuels, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) present a significant opportunity to meet the world’s growing SAF demand, and many participants are leading the way to diversify its energy mix and reduce carbon emissions. Unique feedstocks, vast land area, access to seawater, and significant solar potential provide opportunities for both biomass feedstocks and renewable non-biomass feedstocks like solar and wind power-to-liquid (PtL) solutions.
SAF demand is taking off
SAF addresses the challenge of decarbonising flight by reducing the carbon intensity fuel relative to fossil, while integrating with the existing fleet and supply networks.
Though demand for SAF is only recently on the rise, Honeywell UOP has been on the leading edge of SAF production for over a decade. In 2009, UOP led the ASTM committee for approval of Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (HEFA SPK) as a SAF blending component. In 2015, the first commercial HEFA SPK was made using UOP technology. Today, most SAF is made from vegetable oils, animal fats, and waste oils under the HEFA SPK route trailblazed by Honeywell UOP. Based on government mandates and global commitments, SAF consumption will soon exceed what can be supplied by HEFA SPK. A variety of other feedstocks for SAF – bio-oils, woody biomass, municipal waste, and ethanol – will all be required to meet demand. And even with all these feedstocks combined, SAF demand will require additional sustainable carbon sources.
Making SAF from thin air
Captured CO2 offers a solution to SAF feedstock constraints — CO2 is a hugely abundant, inherently circular source of carbon. A promising method of turning CO2 into SAF without causing significant carbon emissions is to store up renewable electricity in the form of green hydrogen, then combine that hydrogen with captured carbon to make “eSAF”.
Honeywell’s latest technology, UOP eFining, enables a “methanol to jet” pathway to eSAF, where CO2 is first converted into eMethanol, which is then further upgraded to SAF. Employing eMethanol as an intermediate has a number of advantages. eMethanol is already proving itself to be a sellable, marketable, and easily transportable liquid in today’s marketplace. As a sellable intermediate, methanol enables staged investment, startup, and expansion across a complex. Accepting methanol as a feed also enables a hub-and-spoke approach to feed consolidation.
In the UOP eFining process, methanol is converted to olefins, and those olefins are then linked, “building up” molecules of a desired length. Honeywell UOP eFining is built on commercially demonstrated methanol to olefin technology (MTO) and decades of experience with oligomerization technologies such as CatPoly, InAlk, and Catolene. Honeywell UOP has leveraged learnings from its 37 years of combined MTO operating experience and decades of oligomerisation unit designs to develop a highly selective, low carbon intensity approach to jet fuel production. Honeywell UOP eFining can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 88% compared to conventional jet fuel.*
The world has a long way to go from today’s estimated 8,000 barrels per day of global SAF production and to the 3 million we will need in 2050. For fuel producers with access to renewable energy and industrial capabilities, like those in the Middle East, the methanol to jet pathway and technologies like UOP eFining offer a practical and economical solution to meet global demand.
*Reduced GHG emissions is based on UOP carbon intensity analysis, derived from a 3rd-party study of methanol production from green hydrogen and CO2 captured from biomass processing, in comparison to fossil fuels.
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