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New refinery to produce millions of gallons of sustainable jet fuel: 'Aviation fuels that actually have a future'

"The details matter."

"The details matter."

Photo Credit: iStock

Sustainable aviation fuel company LanzaJet recently opened a new refinery in Georgia, where it will create 9 million gallons of alternative fuel per year once at full capacity, Canary Media reported.

The aviation industry is responsible for around 2% of global energy-related carbon dioxide pollution, and it is not on track to meet the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, according to the International Energy Agency. This is due to the industry's reliance on dirty energy to power its planes.

To combat this problem, companies like LanzaJet are developing alternatives called sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) out of substances like biomass and hydrogen. LanzaJet's SAF is made using ethanol, also known as grain alcohol.

However, while using SAFs creates less planet-overheating pollution than traditional petroleum-based gas or oil, they are not the perfect source of clean energy. The processes used to create them are often highly energy-intensive and create large amounts of air pollution. 

When ethanol is made using corn (which is most common in the United States) or sugarcane (most common in Brazil), indirect effects — such as clearing forests for crops — could produce too much pollution to be considered planet-friendly. 

LanzaJet said that its Georgia operation, called the Freedom Pines Fuels facility, will use "low-carbon-intensity" ethanol, with sources such as corn and municipal solid waste. The company has also received federal approval to use sugarcane.

Pedro Piris-Cabezas, the lead SAF expert for the Environmental Defense Fund, explained that it is not enough just to produce alternative fuels — the fuels must be made sustainably.

"How we produce the fuels is critical," Piris-Cabezas said. "The details matter."

Ultimately, the goal of the government's oversight of the industry should be to "ensure we channel public resources toward truly sustainable aviation fuels that actually have a future, in terms of decarbonizing aviation over the long run," he said.

Now the industry appears one step closer to making this vision a reality. 

Jennifer Holmgren, the board chair of LanzaJet, said in a statement cited by Canary Media that the refinery is "proof of the energy transition accelerating in real time." 

Just last year, the first dirty fuel-free commercial transatlantic flight was a success. In that instance, the SAF used was a combination of cooking oil, animal fat, and a synthetic aromatic kerosene from waste corn. 

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