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Alcohol to Jet Fuel: What You Need to Know

Alcohol to Jet Fuel: What You Need to Know

As the world continues pushing forward on various carbon zero fronts, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) remains front-and-center. Therefore, the search for the future of SAF has taken innovation toward multiple options. One promising fossil fuel alternative in the SAF sector is alcohol to jet (ATJ) fuel.

Prima Markets, a ResourceWise company, has focused a direct and immediate interest in all the news surrounding this development. Our team recognizes the potential this avenue will bring in the energy transition. That is why we are actively developing our company focus beyond road fuels and onto aviation options as well.

This post will explore some of the major elements of ATJ fuel and further discuss the implications in the SAF commodity marketplace.

SAF a Vital Element of Energy Transition

As we have discussed across the ResourceWise portfolio of companies, SAF will play a significantly more important role in our collective transition to renewable fuel sources and feedstocks. Tax credits and production cost decreases will hasten the process of making SAF production competitive with fossil fuels. These moves are happening quickly with major announcements frequently making headlines.

One of the biggest reasons we’re seeing so much about SAF is because of its far-reaching scope in industries like forestry, waste and other sectors. The continued demand of aviation itself is helping to bring these fuel alternatives to center stage.

Aviation alone comprises 12% of global transport CO2 emissions (about 2.5% of total emissions). The demand for jet fuel currently sits at well over 300mn t/yr. And as globalism keeps forging ahead, that demand isn’t likely to drop any time soon.

However, there has been some pushback with responses like the anti-flight movement – or so-called ‘flight shaming.’ The basic principle here is simple: carbon emissions are enormous on an individual scale for those who decide to fly. To combat these emissions, many people opt to not fly at all.

The anti-flying movement and flight shaming aim to spotlight the problem of emissions within the aviation industry. And to a large extent, these critics are absolutely right. Aviation does produce a huge amount of carbon emissions.

But is it realistic to forego flying altogether or push for an end to international flights?

The reality of our world is that despite those who opt out of flying, the industry itself isn’t going anywhere. This is the point where SAF becomes critical.

SAF provides a route away from fossil fuels and high carbon emissions into something more sustainable. Options like electric aircraft, while potentially great for quick flights, aren’t there yet for intercontinental and long-distance travel.

Again, the reality here is that aircraft will continue demanding liquid fuels. Accordingly, SAF options like ATJ will need to ramp up to meet this continued demand.

How ATJ Feedstocks Will Impact SAF

Zooming the lens in to focus on alcohol to jet fuel, ATJ will play a big part within SAF production thanks to all the new feedstock pathways it allows. Currently, hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) from sources like used cooking oils are the most common type of SAF. Yet even at full capacity, HEFA-derived fuels will only be able to meet about 13% of current jet fuel demand.

What will that mean for the future as demand will likely increase? Alternative sources will need to fill the gap, and this is where ATJ carries considerable future potential.

ATJ has an expansive number of pathways in terms of feedstocks and production that go far beyond how HEFA is processed. Once these pathways are set and ready to move, there will be no stopping ATJ’s potential.

Within the US and India, agriculture will serve as the major source of alcohol for ATJ (as ethanol). Agricultural waste and crop ethanol will be the key feedstock in this system.

However, restrictions in Europe prevent the use of crop-based ethanol for ATJ. Instead, ethanol must be waste based. It can be derived from several sources:

  • Waste Woods
  • Cellulose from Sugar Cane
  • Recapturing/Conserving Emissions to Harness Ethanol

Big Moves as Ethanol ATJ Fuels Get International Support

No matter the source of ethanol, we’re already seeing ATJ adoption in multiple world markets.

In the Asian sector, ATJ production continues to gain both traction and attention as major companies are now getting involved. Indian Oil Corp has signed an agreement with LanzaJet to begin producing ethanol-derived SAF in northern India at the firm's Panipat refinery.

LanzaJet has continued the push for ethanol-derived ATJ fuel coming from both industrial and agricultural waste. This partnership reflects a big jump forward on an international scale.

Indian Oil aims to have about 2% of its aviation fuel from sustainable sources by 2030. While the 2% may not seem like much, the volume of such a shift will be substantial. And it certainly beats the 0% it is currently producing.

Can ATJ Compete with Other SAF? Learn More with Prima’s Carbon Mitigator

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The burning question many businesses may be asking is: Will ATJ be able to compete within the SAF market?

The general answer to this question, as you may have guessed, is a resounding “yes.” Since ethanol can be derived from multiple sources, there are lots of ways it can be turned into fuel. Continued adoptions in production and innovation will likely further expand the market potential for this vital element of sustainable fuels and feedstocks.

Using Prima’s proprietary economic modeling, we have put together a much more comprehensive look at ATJ’s success potential in our latest product – the Carbon Mitigator Report.

Prima’s Carbon Mitigator Report provides data-driven insights for all decarbonization opportunities in both the present and future markets. Using real-world reporting and usage statistics, we offer strategic data points on where we are right now and where we’re headed in the future.

The Carbon Mitigator Report gives you the intelligence your business needs to develop the right strategy toward carbon zero targets. It is only available on Prima's online analytics platform, Prima CarbonZero.

Are you working on developing your own plan to invest and transition into low carbon fuel and feedstocks? Need help getting started with your planning? Download our eBook, Mapping a Business Plan for Decarbonization: The Problem of Starting Now.

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