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As pressure mounts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the aviation sector will require a significant amount of low-carbon fuels over the next 30 years.
SAF+, a consortium based in Montreal’s east end, is planning to develop a drop-in (ready to use as is), low-carbon sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as an alternative to fossil jet fuel with over 80 per cent lower lifecycle emissions.
The group, which includes Air Transat and Aéroports de Montréal, aims to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from large industrial emitters (with emissions of over 50 metric tons of CO2 per year) and transform it into SAF.
While most of the solutions already available in this field rely on biomass, agriculture by-products or fats, oils and grease (known as FOG) as source material, SAF+ relies instead on captured CO2 from large emitters.
This CO2 would then be used to create SAF, a synthetic kerosene that is already widely used elsewhere in the world and has the same characteristics as regular fossil jet fuel.
“In addition, the production process uses hydrogen produced from ‘green’ hydroelectricity, instead of hydrogen produced from natural gas, which also reduces emissions,” noted Jean Paquin, who heads SAF+.
And while he concedes the synthetic fuel produced by SAF+ will produce as much GHG as conventional kerosene, the total GHG footprint will be reduced because SAF+ will have recaptured the molecules that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere.
Paquin’s consortium hopes to commercialize a sustainable fuel by 2025 or 2026, aided by a $2 million federal grant to build a test plant in Montreal this summer to produce aircraft fuel from carbon dioxide emitted from ParaChem, a nearby chemical company.
SAF+ was one of four winners of the first phase of Natural Resources Canada’s “The Sky’s the Limit Challenge.” This challenge is aimed at encouraging the creation of a clean aviation fuel supply chain in Canada. The aviation industry has set a target to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.
SAF+’s feedstock will come from ParaChem, which produces over 100,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, noted Paquin, who comes from a wind and solar power background.
The project will consist of three phases. The first will be the construction of a demonstration plant to optimize the technology. The second is a pre-commercial phase which will ramp up SAF production between 2022-2025. Finally, the commercial phase will expect to see the plant produce up to 30 million litres of SAF, beginning in 2025 or 2026.
Paquin estimates SAF+ will need close to $400 million to reach the commercial production phase, but noted he has various investors and committed clients behind him.
And while SAF+’s first cost estimates indicate the removal of each ton of CO2 at around $400, it will likely be substantially reduced when the process is optimized.
“If we had this conversation five or six years ago, airlines wouldn’t think about paying a premium,” he said. “But Canadian airlines will only require between three to eight per cent SAF blend to reach their climate targets.” By comparison, some European countries are mandating a 30 per cent blend by 2030.
While SAF+ is slow getting out of the gate, Paquin isn’t worried his group will be left behind, since the demand for SAF will only increase.
“There is only about 30 million litres of SAF being produced today, and 3.5 billion litres expected to be produced by 2025, when the industry will require about 500 billion litres to meet the (ICAO) requirements.”