Submission of planning application to develop UK's first waste to jet fuel plant a major milestone, says BA
The Velocys F-T reactor at the ENVIA plant in Oklahoma
Thu 29 Aug 2019 – British Airways’ waste to jet fuel project with Velocys has moved a step forward with the submission of a planning application to develop a site on the north-east coast of England for sustainable jet fuel production. The airline said the application was a major milestone for the project, a first of its kind in Europe. Subject to planning approval and successful funding, construction of the Immingham plant is due to begin in 2021 and to start producing commercial volumes of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in 2024. When fully operational, the plant is expected to convert over 500,000 tonnes each year of non-recyclable everyday household and commercial waste destined for landfill or incineration into producing over 60 million litres of fuel, of which 40 million litres is intended to be jet fuel. The carrier is now calling for the setting up of a dedicated cross-government body to provide policy support to accelerate UK SAF development.
The planning application has been submitted by Altalto Immingham Limited, a subsidiary set up by Velocys and an investment collaboration with British Airways and Shell. The location of the vacant 80-acre (32ha) site on the Humber estuary is in an industrial area renowned for fuels production. The development is anticipated to bring millions of pounds of investment to the area, hundreds of jobs during construction and around 130 permanent jobs when completed, say the partners.
Velocys is leading the project and assembling the technology components into an integrated design. It is also supplying the Fischer-Tropsch technology that turns synthesis gas into the hydrocarbons required to create the sustainable fuels, which the company has been developing over the past 15 years. The company says the technology has already been successfully demonstrated at a demonstration plant in Oklahoma. In addition to Immingham, Velocys is currently developing a project in Natchez, Mississippi, to convert woody biomass from forest residues into road transportation diesel fuel.
“We have a solution to decarbonise aviation fuel by converting an unwanted feedstock – household and commercial waste – to create a highly valuable product: sustainable transport fuels,” said Velocys CEO Henrik Wareborn. “This will cut greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, as well as improving air quality and helping to tackle our waste problem. This is a vital step to the ultimate goal of living in a net zero carbon world by the middle of the century.”
The sustainable jet fuel produced by Altalto is expected to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 70% compared to conventional fossil fuel and improve air quality with up to a 90% reduction in soot from aircraft engine exhausts and almost 100% reduction in sulphur oxides.
Shell is intending to buy both jet fuel and road fuel from Altalto, which will then be blended and sold to its customers. Through its New Energies business, Shell will also be providing technical expertise based on its long experience of gasification and Fischer-Tropsch.
“Sustainable fuels can be a game changer for aviation that will help power our aircraft for years to come,” said British Airways’ CEO Alex Cruz. “This development is an important step in the reduction of our carbon emissions and meeting industry targets. It also brings the UK another step closer to becoming a global leader in sustainable aviation fuels.”
As part of its centenary celebrations, British Airways ran a competition earlier this year, ‘BA2119: Future of Fuels’, in collaboration with Cranfield University to challenge UK academics to develop a sustainable alternative fuel that could power a commercial aircraft on a long-haul flight, carrying up to 300 passengers with zero net emissions.
The airline’s parent company IAG, which also includes Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, has committed to spending $400 million on alternative fuel development over the next 20 years, including investments and purchasing commitments. It said it is currently working on a number of SAF development projects.
In June 2018, the Velocys/BA/Shell project received a development grant of £434,000 ($580,000) from the UK Department of Transport under the first stage of its ‘Future Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition’. Along with a proposed waste gases to SAF project led by LanzaTech in collaboration with Virgin Atlantic, the Altalto project has been shortlisted for the second stage. An announcement on the awarding of second-stage grants is expected shortly.
Following industry pressure, UK government policy on sustainable aviation fuels changed in April 2018 with a decision to incentivise their use under its flagship programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation.
British Airways is now urging the government to set up a body to help accelerate SAF development. “We strongly welcomed the inclusion of sustainable aviation fuels into the renewable transport fuels policy framework and call on the government to continue to provide support given the significant near-term opportunities offered by these fuels,” said Jonathon Counsell, Head of Sustainability at IAG.
“Specifically, we strongly believe a dedicated Office for Sustainable Aviation Fuels will provide the essential cross-government coordination necessary to progress the development and commercial deployment of SAF and we would welcome government support in setting this up at the earliest opportunity.”