Austrian Airlines has signed up for 1,500 tonnes of SAF from oil, gas and chemicals company OMV to fuel the airline’s short-to-medium haul aircraft at Vienna International Airport from March 2022. The fuel will be produced at OMV’s Schwechat Refinery, co-processing used cooking oil (UCO) collected in Austria and supplied to the airline via a direct pipeline to the airport, reports Tony Harrington. Austrian Airlines is part of the Lufthansa Group, which has committed to halving its net CO2 emissions by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. By using the OMV-produced SAF, Austrian said it would reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 3,750 tonnes, equivalent to the output of 333 Vienna-London flights by an Airbus A320 jet. The fuel will be part-funded by passengers via Lufthansa’s Compensaid platform, which enables them to offset their share of aircraft emissions by contributing to the purchase of SAF.
The Austrian Airlines’ SAF agreement with OMV is following a similar pathway to that of the Phillips 66 supply to British Airways announced last week (see article), where the refinery process, which produces green, or renewable, diesel, can be repurposed to produce renewable jet fuel through co-processing. While conventional methods blend in the biofuel component from vegetable oil or used cooking oil only after the diesel has been produced, with co-processing the biofuel is processed together with the crude in a hydrotreatment plant. Here, hydrogen is added to the oil mixture, thereby removing non-desirable components such as oxygen and other impurities to produce a pure hydrocarbon. The Schwechat Refinery started producing biodiesel through co-processing in 2016 and it now plans to build a plant capable of processing up to 160,000 tonnes of biogenic feedstock every year from 2023.
“The advantage of co-processing is that there are no technical limitations regarding the raw materials,” said Gudrun Kollmitzer, Head of Bio & Feedstock, OMV Downstream. “At present, the limiting factor is rather one of availability. The oil used is heavily dependent on supply. Not all feedstocks are available in the requisite quality and quantity.”
SAF technical expert and GreenAir contributor Susan van Dyk commented that for renewable jet fuel produced through co-processing, current insertion volumes under ASTM aviation fuel regulations are only permitted to a maximum of 5%. “However, this is a very quick and easy way to expand SAF volumes as no new infrastructure needs to be built,” she said. “There are many refineries already producing renewable diesel by this method and there are at least five refineries in Europe and some in the US that will start producing SAF through co-processing.”
Austrian said using UCO makes the entire production chain as regional as possible, keeping transportation to a minimum and makes for a CO2 reduction of more than 80% over the entire lifecycle compared to conventional kerosene. One key technical advantage, it added, was the existing infrastructure can be used for storage and fuelling via the direct pipeline connection to the airport.
Alexis von Hoensbroech, Chief Executive of Austrian Airlines, said the use of SAF was a key means of cutting aircraft emissions. “Now,” he added, “the task is to work with policymakers towards a location-based initiative to meet the EU blending mandates from 2025 onwards, and hopefully even surpass them.”
OMV’s CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board, Alfred Stern, said SAF represented “a readily available, easily applicable way of reducing emissions, and are equivalent to conventional fuels in terms of quality and performance. We are very serious about our role in the energy transition and will continue to work on reducing the CO2 intensity of our portfolio in the future.”