NEW YORK (ICIS)–Economics pose a major
challenge to the scale-up and adoption of
sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) but
advancements in early-stage technology,
particularly in eFuels, will dramatically lower
costs in the coming years, according to
executives at Honeywell and HIF Global.
The challenge is huge. To meet climate goals,
the industry will need to produce 23bn litres
(23m tonnes) of SAF by 2030, an order of
magnitude from the 300m litres produced in
2022, said Peter Cerda, regional vice
president, the Americas, at the International
Air Transport Association (IATA).
Cerda moderated a panel of executives from
Honeywell, United Airlines, HIF Global and
Supernal at an event in New York.
“Today the cost of producing eSAF [eFuel SAF]
is about 2-3x the cost of regular aviation
fuel. That’s why it’s going to be very
important to spread that over the entire fuel
base so that on a per unit of total aviation
fuel in the world, it’s a very small increase,”
said Meg Gentle, executive director of eFuels
producer HIF Global.
Green hydrogen is being combined with carbon
dioxide (CO2) to produce methanol. The methanol
is then used to produce eFuels, including SAF
or eSAF. These eFuels represent an 85-95%
reduction in carbon intensity, she pointed out.
“These technologies are at a fairly early stage
of adoption so there’s a lot of runway ahead of
them,” said Gavin Towler, corporate chief
scientist, sustainable technologies, and chief
sustainability officer at Honeywell, who
pointed out that the oil and gas industry has
been improving refining technologies for the
past 160 years.
Electrolysis will be one key area of
advancement as it is “very early days for green
hydrogen”, he said. Scaling up solar
manufacturing and leveraging developments in
electronics will also be applied to the
production of green hydrogen via electrolysis.
With eFuels, the production of SAF
is no longer constrained by limited
supplies of used cooking oil and other
residual fats as feedstock.
“The fears of a feedstock limitation to SAF are
really more related to biofuels or used cooking
oil but eFuels don’t use those feedstocks,”
said Gentle from HIF Global.
On the cost side, it will come down to
electrolysers and carbon capture, including
reducing the cost of direct air capture (DAC)
of CO2 by a factor of 10, she added.
“The industry is going to be able to do that.
As we start manufacturing electrolysers – not
one at a time but hundreds at a time, we’re
going to bring down the cost of producing
hydrogen,” said Gentle.
“And many new technologies, which HIF is also
testing to bring the cost of DAC down from
$800/tonne today to less than $200/tonne, will
make the CO2 feedstock essentially limitless
because it’s just the air,” she added.
Direct air capture (DAC) of CO2 is currently
very expensive but also will improve over time,
While CO2 can more cheaply be captured from
industrial sources, that feedstock source will
also become more limited as sectors
decarbonise, he said.
Producing SAF from cellulosic ethanol will also
see cost reductions as this industry becomes
more efficient, he added.
In October 2022, Honeywell announced its new
ethanol-to-jet fuel (ETJ) processing
technology that can reduce greenhouse gas
emissions by 80% on a total lifecycle basis
versus conventional jet fuel. Honeywell has a
suite of technologies to produce SAF – from
used cooking oil, to ethanol to green methanol
(to produce eFuels or eSAF).
The future of SAF at scale is eFuels, which in
theory would be free from feedstock
“To really go to the ultimate [destination],
you want to go to eFuels – a full circular
carbon economy where you take renewable power,
pull CO2 out of the air, electrolyse water to
hydrogen, react [CO2] and hydrogen to make
methanol, and then turn the methanol into jet
fuel,” said Towler.
“All of these things give me optimism that
costs will continue to come down, and that the
idea of SAF being on parity with petroleum jet
is not a technical impossibility,” he added.
However, the expectation that the cost of SAF
will be lower in the future is not a reason to
delay action, he said, pointing out the
potential for irreversible climate change
Government incentives to develop and scale the
industry will be critical for the ultimate
transition to SAF, the panellists emphasised.
“The long-term objective is parity to
conventional fuel… There is a transition
period… That’s where government participation
is important, whether it’s a carrot or stick
based approach. Someone needs to fund that in
an interim period,” said Andrew Chang, managing
director at United Airlines Ventures.
United Airlines shares the green premium of SAF
purchases with corporate partners that have
their own sustainability targets, but this is
temporary as customers want a viable long-term
economical solution, he noted.
And it’s not only the aviation sector seeking
low-carbon fuels but shipping and ground
transport as well.
“The challenge we have is not only serving
aviation demand but also eFuels going to
shipping and also for road transport,” said
Gentle, who pointed out that Porsche is
partnering with HIF to produce eFuel in Chile.
Porsche in 2022 announced a $75m investment in
HIF Global is planning to build an eFuels
project in Matagorda County, Texas that would
produce around 200m gal/year of shipping fuel
and eGasoline by 2027.
Insight article by Joseph