Can sustainable aviation fuel be as cheap as fossil fuels?

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) fulfills that holy grail that will keep planes in the air without carbon emissions. LanzaJet, funded in part by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy, is one of the companies trying to make products in quantity. It is opening a plant in Georgia in 2023 that will double US SAF capacity. Breakthrough is providing a $50 million grant to subsidize the cost and bring it back to price parity with fossil jet fuel.

Bloomberg’s Akshat Rathi explains that the manufacturing process for SAF is energy-intensive. “This means that, without subsidies or other incentives, the cost of LanzaJet’s SAF from the first plant would be around twice as high as its fossil-fueled cousin at current prices. in the form of grants or low-interest loans.

How it works.


LanzaJet manufactures Alcohol Jet (ATJ) technology to convert ethanol to synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) or synthetic paraffinic diesel (SPD) through “four main process steps which are each proven to scale commercial: dehydration, oligomerization, hydrogenation and Fractionation.” They state on their website: “Ethanol can be produced from a variety of environmentally, economically and socially sustainable sources such as biomass residues, municipal solid wastes or industrial waste gases without competition with food, water and land use, enabling SAF production anywhere in the world.”

In the Bloomberg article, however, Rathi writes:

“LanzaJet’s technology extracts ethanol from sources such as sugar cane in Brazil, waste gas in China or corn in the United States, then chemically converts it into SAF and renewable diesel. Depending on the feedstock used to to manufacture ethanol, LanzaJet says greenhouse gas emissions from its SAF could be up to 85% lower than conventional fuel.”

It’s a whole different kerosene kettle. In a previous article, “Can We Keep Flying on Sustainable Aviation Fuels? we cited a working paper, “Estimating Feedstock Availability for Sustainable Aviation Fuel to Meet Growing European Union Demand”, from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), which explicitly noted that, “even with strong policies in place, the limited availability of the best performing feedstocks suggests that SAF production alone cannot meet the industry’s long-term GHG reduction obligations. EU aviation”.

Andy Singer with permission

Making ethanol from sugarcane or corn is essentially putting food on planes rather than people. It was done for a while with gasoline for cars, but the tide was turning against that. In a recent article, “Is the tide turning against feeding cars instead of people?”, we noted that many conservative and mainstream publications are beginning to resemble Treehugger in their objections to this. Another Bloomberg writer, David Fickling, wrote that it’s time to get biofuels out of your gas tank, noting that “the pressure it puts on the planet’s limited farmland is hampering our ability to feed the poorest people in the world. It’s time to start dismantling the pipeline from farms to gas tanks before it does more harm.”

Other writers from the radically leftist Financial Times have noted that biofuel mandates should be rescinded because people need food first. “Hundreds of millions of people are threatened with ‘hunger and misery’ because of war-induced food shortages, the UN Secretary-General warned last week. The total amount of crops used each year for biofuels is equal to the calorie consumption of 1.9 bn people, according to data firm Gro Intelligence, highlighting the volume of agricultural products that could be diverted from energy use if the food security crisis escalates. worsened.”

After reading that latest article on SAF, I contacted Dan Rutherford, director of aviation at the International Council on Clean Transportation, who noted that the statement “his SAF’s greenhouse gas emissions could be up to 85% less than conventional fuel”. the best possible second-generation fuels, not first-generation fuels like corn or sugarcane. He says the UN has estimated that SAF from American corn, for example, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by just 10% compared to jet fuel. We noted earlier that it looks a lot like Andy Singer’s cartoon, and actually worse for the climate than the gasoline.

“The theory behind LanzaJet’s approach is to use cheaper, less durable raw materials to prime the pump for better fuels later,” says Rutherford. “But this strategy has clearly failed for on-road biofuels because advanced fuels have not been able to compete on price. Better to take the EU approach and limit incentives and investments around better fuels from day one.

In the previous post, I concluded that it would never lead to anything meaningful: “There just aren’t enough dead cows and there isn’t enough land to keep us all going. ‘air.” At least right now they are competing with people for food in a world where climate change and war are causing shortages and price increases. I don’t see how anyone could imagine that’s a good idea.