25 January 2022

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

New international collaboration aims to start large-scale production of e-fuels in Sweden

A major partnership has been formed by SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Swedish energy company Vattenfall, Shell Aviation and LanzaTech to explore the large-scale production in Sweden of synthetic sustainable aviation fuel, using carbon dioxide recycled from district heating, reports Tony Harrington. By 2026-27, the consortium plans to commission a new SAF facility near Forsmark, on Sweden’s east coast, with capacity to produce up to 50,000 tonnes of synthetic SAF, or electrofuel, per annum. The plant would use fossil-free electricity to convert CO2 collected from Vattenfall’s heat and power plant in Uppsala, near Stockholm and, when fully operational, would be able to provide SAS with up to 25% of its global SAF requirements in the 2030s. It would be the first synthetic SAF produced through the LanzaJet Alcohol to Jet (AtJ) process, developed by Illinois-based LanzaTech and the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

To create the fuel, fossil-free electricity would be used to develop hydrogen via electrolysis. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen would then be combined and converted to ethanol, and the ethanol would be transformed into electrofuel. Under the terms of the four-party agreement, Vattenfall would investigate fossil-free electricity supply, hydrogen production and carbon dioxide recovery; Shell would investigate fuel production and logistics, and be the electrofuel buyer; and LanzaTech would deploy its gas fermentation expertise to make ethanol from the input gas streams. The parties collectively would license the LanzaJet AtJ technology to convert the ethanol to electrofuel, and SAS would be a potential buyer of the fuel for use in its global fleet.

“The aviation sector faces incredible challenges getting the volumes of SAF needed for sustainable flight,” said Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech. “This project is the start of delivering on these volumes, and by reusing carbon dioxide and fossil-free power we have an opportunity for unprecedented scale. We need to rethink carbon, and together with fossil-free power, harness it to create a new climate-safe future for all.”

Anna Mascolo, President, Shell Aviation, said sustainable aviation fuel offered the greatest potential to reduce emissions from aviation. “It is only by working together today across the aviation ecosystem to drive the technologies and infrastructure needed to produce SAF at scale that the aviation sector can achieve net zero by 2050,” she said. “I am excited for this collaboration to explore one more pathway for SAF production.”

Added Vattenfall CEO Anna Borg: “This initiative shows the potential of cross-industry partnerships to drive the decarbonisation of a hard-to-abate sector, to innovate faster in order to bridge to fossil-free living within one generation. This is a really good opportunity, and together we will explore further how to produce low emission electrofuel for aviation.”   

SAS serves 90 destinations with a fleet ranging from turboprop ATR 72-600s to next-generation Airbus A320neos, A321LRs and long range A350s. “We are incredibly proud to be part of this unique project, where ambitious sustainability goals and agendas come together,” said Anko van der Werff, the airline’s CEO. “Our joint commitment in finding ways to enable large-scale production of a more sustainable aviation fuel is a fantastic opportunity to accelerate the commercialisation of SAF, and thus SAS’s transition towards industry-leading zero emission flights.”

The Vattenfall evaluation is one of four power-to-liquids projects currently being undertaken by LanzaTech, including a feasibility study with Carbon Engineering to evaluate the direct capture of carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to sustainable aviation fuel.

The announcement of the Swedish electrofuel initiative coincides with strong industry concerns about a lack of sufficient production and distribution capacity to meet growing demand for SAF, driven by airline sustainability objectives and escalating blending mandates in Europe.

The industry’s Air Transport Action Group, in its Waypoint 2050 report, has estimated 330-445 million tonnes of SAF would be needed globally for airlines to achieve their 2050 net emissions targets, but assessed only 180 million tonnes was likely to be available for aviation use. The report also forecast that between 5,000 and 7,000 new refineries would also be needed to meet SAF demand in that period.

SkyNRG, a major global provider of SAF, has separately estimated that for Europe alone to meet its current, escalating blending mandates, 300 new SAF plants would be required by 2050, each producing 100,000 tonnes of fuel per year. But the report said just 15 new plants were proposed for construction in Europe by 2027, requiring more than 10 new facilities each year between 2027 and 2050.   

Maarten van Dijk, Managing Director of SkyNRG, said demand for SAF production facilities provided a significant opportunity for infrastructure investors. He told GreenAir that global investors wanted to support the transition to low carbon energy and were seeking opportunities. “There’s an insane amount of money out there at the moment,” he said. “There’s just a shortage of investment-grade sustainable developments. Institutional investors have trillions to invest, and they need new future-proof industries. This is one.”

Photo: SAS