Shell Leads Oil Rivals on Sustainable Aviation Fuel

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Royal Dutch Shell is emerging as a front-runner among the oil majors when it comes to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). It has made a series of investments in SAF producers, as well as in its own production facilities, and it has also been funding the development of new technology. Fuel suppliers must adapt to survive as the aviation industry rushes to decarbonize. Airlines have pledged to at least halve their carbon emissions by 2050 and drop-in liquid SAF seen as the long-term solution for long-haul routes, even after short-haul routes switch to electric or hydrogen-fueled planes (IOD Nov.20’20). Alcohol-to-Jet Technology Shell's latest SAF investment is in US alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) producer LanzaJet. "The strategic fit with LanzaJet is exciting," Shell Aviation President Anna Mascolo said as the news was announced last week. "Through our Raizen joint venture in Brazil, we have been producing bioethanol for over 10 years, and we have already demonstrated production of cellulosic ethanol from waste materials." "Our access to feedstocks, experience of optimizing supply chains and extensive sales and marketing business will hopefully contribute to LanzaJet creating sustainable, robust and scalable commercial operations," she added. Georgia on Shell's Mind LanzaJet's first 30,000 ton per year ATJ Freedom Pines facility in the US state of Georgia is due for completion late next year. The firm’s patented ATJ technology can use any source of sustainable ethanol as a feedstock, including ethanol made from industrial waste gases via a process pioneered by parent firm LanzaTech. A Shell spokesperson tells Energy Intelligence that ethanol made by Shell could be shipped from Brazil to LanzaJet’s Freedom Pines SAF plant in the US rather than being sold as road fuel in the US and Latin America. Shell already has offtake agreements with existing SAF producers Finland's Neste, US firms Redrock and World Energy and ECB Group in South America to meet a growing list of airline SAF supply deals. The Apr. 6 deal with LanzaJet gives it access to Freedom Pines production, but more importantly, it means LanzaJet will help Shell set up a duplicate ATJ SAF plant somewhere in Europe. Europe, Japan and Canada Other LanzaJet investors have similar arrangements: Two LanzaJet ATJ plants are currently planned in the UK with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, plus one in Japan with Mitsui and another in Canada with Suncor (IOD Feb.22’21). Shell has already invested in Dutch SAF firm SkyNRG's 100,000 metric ton/yr DSL-01 HEFA [Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids] plant in the Netherlands and is already working on two European SAF plants of its own, ahead of any LanzaJet facility. Plans for a giant 820,000 metric ton/yr HEFA SAF plant at Shell's Pernis refinery in the Netherlands and a power-to-liquids (PTL) plant at Shell's Energy and Chemicals Park in Rheinland, Germany, are both currently at the pre-final investment decision stage. The firm supplied a 100 liter batch of PTL SAF made in a lab for a KLM passenger test flight earlier this year (IOD Mar.12’21). Bangalore Technology Center But it's not been all one-way traffic. Shell walked away from a SAF partnership with Fischer-Tropsch (FT) waste-to-jet specialist Velocys and British Airways in the UK earlier this year, saying it was looking for opportunities that leveraged its own technology (IOD Jan.26’21). LanzaJet is clearly a much better fit given Shell's ethanol experience. But the European major is also developing its own rival waste-to-jet technology known as iH2 (Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion) at its Bangalore Technology Center in India. Potentially much cheaper than other SAF technologies, the iH2 technical pathway is still midway through the lengthy American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) approval process. Seven technical pathways for SAF have been approved by ASTM so far at blends of up to 50% with conventional fuel. HEFA is currently the cheapest, but still runs at three to four times the cost of conventional jet fuel. PTL is seen as by far the costliest approach at the moment, at more than 10 times the price of jet. Kerry Preston, London

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