WasteFuel, a California-based sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) start-up, is aiming to have its first biorefinery in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, producing commercial volumes of SAF from municipal waste by 2025. It’s the first in a string of SAF plants, Trevor Neilson, Chairman and Chief Executive of WasteFuel, tells Mark Pilling. Neilson said he is in advanced conversations with potential partners on establishing SAF refineries elsewhere in south-east Asia, as well as in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. WasteFuel’s Philippines-produced SAF will initially be shipped back to Los Angeles, California, to take advantage of the tax credits in existence there, he confirmed. Leading business aviation operator NetJets has taken a 20% stake in WasteFuel, demonstrating its strategic interest in SAF and sustainability, and making it the first private aviation company to buy a stake in the production of SAF, said Neilson.
“Our goal is that by 2025 we have five biorefineries in development and the refinery in the Philippines will be in production by then. If that happens, in rough terms, we will be pumping approximately 32 million gallons a year per plant, giving us an initial total output of 160 million gallons annually. Our goal is to produce a billion gallons of SAF a year,” he said.
“In the coming months we are likely to announce an additional biofuel refinery location and additional off-takers, and we will look to do something significant in Glasgow for COP26 in early November.”
WasteFuel came to the industry’s attention in January with the announcement of Neilson as its chairman and CEO. Described as “an entrepreneur and leader in sustainable finance”, he was previously co-founder and CEO of i(x) investments, a leading impact investment firm and early investor in WasteFuel. Neilson now serves as the chairman of i(x) investments. Neilson is also active philanthropically on issues related to climate change and sustainability as chairman of Sustainable Future, an initiative he launched with the Prince of Wales, and as a co-founder of the Climate Emergency Fund. WasteFuel recently named Mario De La Ossa, who has a background in renewable fuels commercial optimisation, as President of the company.
In addition to i(x) investments, investors in WasteFuel other than NetJets include Guy Oseary, a US-based talent manager whose clients include U2 and Madonna, and Prime Infra, the infrastructure arm of Spanish-Filipino entrepreneur and billionaire Enrique K Razon Jr. NetJets has committed to buy a minimum of 100 million gallons of WasteFuel’s SAF over the next 10 years.
The Philippines was chosen as the first WasteFuel SAF plant location because it has a huge feedstock opportunity in municipal waste. “Solid waste management remains a major problem in the Philippines, especially in urban areas like Metro Manila, which generates around 10,000 tons of garbage per day,” said Guillaume Lucci, President, Prime Infra. “A biorefinery that will convert solid waste into SAF will make a big impact in reducing solid waste and ensuing environmental and health hazards, landfill emissions, and fossil fuel use. An added bonus, it will create jobs for the local community.”
Neilson said that solving the municipal waste problem also tackled the damaging methane greenhouse gas emitted from rotting garbage in landfills.
“This is addressing sustainability in a whole different way and creates a profound social and environmental impact,” he added. WasteFuel has already signed deals with Filipino landfill owners for waste feedstock.
At full capacity, the Philippines biorefinery is expected to convert 1 million tons of municipal waste into 30 million gallons of SAF annually. Utilising the most effective technologies available, WasteFuel says it will produce fuels that burn at least an 80% reduction in carbon compared to fossil-fuel based aviation fuels. WasteFuel’s SAF has a Carbon Intensity (CI) of 0 compared to an average CI of 41 for alternative SAFs and a baseline of 89.4 for non-renewable aviation fuel, claims the company.
WasteFuel is “technology agnostic and we will use whatever technology and feedstock is the most effective and available” as it builds up the planned network of refineries, said Neilson.
The project to develop the Philippines refinery will cost around $600 million and is currently in the feasibility stage and moving towards project financing. While Neilson has been talking to over a dozen airlines about possible offtake deals, the strategy is not to rush to sell additional offtakes over and above the NetJets arrangement. Like many others developing SAF production operations, the inter-locking priorities are to secure finance, establish the partners and contractors to bring the manufacturing plant into being, and negotiate the local political and approval environment.
WasteFuel will adopt an upfront approach to its marketing, with the aim to encourage travellers to recognise the aircraft they are flying on are being powered by SAF from the firm. “We want airlines to put our logo on the side of their engines to show customers their airline is using WasteFuel,” said Neilson.
“The climate emergency represents an existential threat to all life on earth. A number of proven waste technologies exist that can dramatically reduce carbon emissions and it’s our job to bring them to scale. This is the future of transportation where there is no such thing as waste, there is only fuel.”
Photo: Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport