23 July 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

University of Sheffield a key partner in two new Direct Air Capture SAF programmes

The University of Sheffield in the UK has become a key partner in two new programmes supporting the production of sustainable aviation fuel from air-captured carbon dioxide. A mobile Direct Air Capture (DAC) plant developed by London-based Mission Zero Technologies (MZT) has been acquired by the university’s Transitional Energy Research Centre (TERC) to help validate CO2-based SAF ahead of certification. The plant, which has just been activated by MZT, is housed in a six-metre shipping container, enabling its transportation to and use in any location. Another UK enterprise, renewable fuels producer Zero Petroleum, recently announced partnerships with companies including Boeing to help progress development of power-to-liquid SAF, created by combining captured carbon with green hydrogen. Boeing will jointly establish a testing programme for Zero Petroleum’s SAF at the University of Sheffield Energy Innovation Centre, of which the airframer is a founding member.

Mission Zero Technologies says its new DAC plant can retrieve an annual 50 tonnes of ‘high-purity’ CO2 from the atmosphere. Operated remotely, but energised by solar power generated on site, the portable plant is designed to enable rapid scaling and to integrate with load-variable renewable power grids, providing “a plug-and-play source of sustainable carbon on demand for both sustainable use and permanent removal.”

Dr Nicholas Chadwick, the company’s CEO, welcomed the partnership with the University of Sheffield, which, through its Translational Energy Research Centre (TERC), provides one of Europe’s biggest and best-regarded zero carbon energy and research facilities.

Using the MZT technology, TERC will validate end-to-end production of jet fuel created from recycled atmospheric carbon, ahead of the SAF’s certification. It will use water and solar energy sourced on the TERC site.

The companies said DAC was widely recognised as the only technology able to deliver sustainable carbon feedstock to support the UK government’s proposed mandate of 10% SAF use by 2030.

“Direct air capture is a multi-use technology able to drive deep industrial decarbonisation and permanent carbon removal,” said Dr Chadwick. “Through pioneering partnership we’re already realising that potential.”    

MZT said its DAC plant was one of only two such systems globally to secure commercial funding. Its backers include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the XPRIZE foundation, Anglo American and Stripe, as well as the UK government.

“This first-of-a-kind UK DAC-to-jet fuel project will provide project financiers and developers with the analysis required to scale a UK SAF ecosystem,” said MZT. “By proving DAC’s readiness for industrial scale, it will also pave the way for more fossil-dependent industries to rapidly decarbonise.”

TERC Managing Director Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian said the DAC deal was “hugely exciting for us, and for the world, as we discover more about the potential for decarbonised industrial processes and air transport using novel DAC technology.”

In separate recent initiatives, Zero Petroleum, an emerging UK-based renewable fuels company, announced partnerships with companies including Boeing to progress development of power-to-liquid SAF, created by combining air-captured carbon and green hydrogen.

Boeing will jointly establish a testing programme for Zero Petroleum’s SAF at the University of Sheffield’s Energy Innovation Centre.

The aircraft maker’s partnership with the university is designed help innovative fuel producers to test, mature and scale their SAF, while its tie-up with Zero Petroleum follows other recent SAF collaborations in the UAE, Ireland, Japan, Ethiopia and Brazil.

“The aviation industry needs to move quickly to meet upcoming mandates for de-fossilisation,” said Zero Petroleum’s CEO, Paddy Lowe. “Synthetic fuels provide the only fully scalable solution.”

In Oxfordshire, England, the company recently opened Plant Zero.1, an engineering-scale production facility which it claims to be “the world’s first fully featured synthetic fuel plant,” with on-site capability to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air, generate renewable electricity from solar panels, produce green hydrogen from water electrolysis, and create synthetic fuel.

The SAF currently produced at Plant Zero.1 is an “engineering grade” product, developed for market evaluation and approvals required for ASTM certification. Planning is underway for a second facility, Plant Zero.2, which the company says could start making 100% drop-in synthetic fuels as early as 2025.

“Collaborating with Boeing will now enable us to accelerate the qualification process and put us on course for commercial delivery by 2026,” said Lowe. “Our collaboration with Boeing sets an industry precedent for the recognition and support for synthetic fuels in the global pivot to sustainable solutions.”

Sheila Remes, Boeing’s VP Environmental Sustainability, said that for the next 30 years, SAF would be aviation’s biggest lever in reducing emissions, “but we need more of it now to enable those reductions. Working with innovators around the world such as Zero is crucial as we collaborate to develop new, sustainable pathways to produce and scale up SAF.”

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