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The U.S. is Now Home to the World’s Largest SAF Facility

LanzaJet recently rocked the worlds of aviation and climate innovation with the opening of the world’s largest sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) plant in Georgia. While SAF has been around since 2008, it is incredibly expensive compared to fossil-derived jet fuel. SAF has only been available in test flights and used by wealthy fliers like Bill Gates. However, LanzaJet’s opening could mark a turning point for the SAF and aviation industry at large.  

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Freedom Pines Fuels, LanzaJet’s $200 million SAF biorefinery in Georgia, will use a proprietary process dubbed “alcohol-to-jet” which will source ethanol from municipal solid waste, agricultural waste, and captured CO2, to create SAF. The company claims it could reduce carbon emissions by over 70 percent compared to conventional jet fuel. The biorefinery is expected to produce 10 million gallons of SAF every year. While that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 52 billion gallons of jet fuel consumed each year worldwide, it could signal a positive step in making SAF more economical. 

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“Today is testament to the conviction required by industry, government, and funders to advance innovation and stretch the boundaries of what is achievable to address decarbonization and tackle climate change,” commented LanzaJet’s CEO, Jimmy Samartzis, at the facility’s grand opening. “As we start up the plant, we will continue to refine our technology, while launching our efforts to advance new sustainable fuels projects globally. Between feedstock versatility, efficiency, and economics that enable scale in the US and globally, we stand ready to meet aviation’s decarbonization goals established at the United Nations and country ambitions, such as the U.S. SAF Grand Challenge.”

LanzaJet’s technology is proprietary but the Freedom Pines Fuels opening marks several notable developments: 

Buy-in From Industry Leaders 

Many leaders in the aviation industry have already put their interest in LanzaJet’s efforts down in writing. LanzaJet published commendations from Luis Gallego, CEO of the International Airlines Group; Sean Doyle, chairman and CEO of British Airways; Haldane Dodd, executive director of the Air Transport Action Group; and other industry leaders.

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The facility itself also has offtake agreements for the next ten years. The opening of Freedom Pines Fuels has not gone unnoticed and shows that there is significant interest from the aviation industry in seeing this plant, and future SAF endeavors, succeed. However, for this novel technology to receive more private sector buy-in, it will need to be competitive without subsidies. 

Aviation’s Experimental Biofuel Trend Continues

The aviation industry has looked to biofuel options, among other things, as a potential source from which to develop commercially viable SAF. Algae, waste oils, palm oil, and solid biomass are all options that have been on the table for experimentation. If Freedom Pines Fuels is successful in meeting production targets, the industry may start to look to biofuels for SAF development over power sources like electrification or hydrogen.

A Private Sector-Led SAF Push

The federal government has signaled its support for sustainable aviation fuel through generous subsidies and the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, a public-private initiative working together to develop a comprehensive strategy for scaling up new technologies to produce sustainable aviation fuels on a commercial scale. Partnerships like these can be helpful for nascent technologies to scale up. Increasing private support should result in the government phasing out taxpayer support, which will allow the market to drive advancements in SAF.  

There is little doubt that the key players in aviation will be watching LanzaJet to see whether Freedom Pines Fuels is successful. If it is, it could unlock a new, ethanol-based, future for SAF. 

Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

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