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LanzaTech advances on alcohol-to-jet scale-ups in the United States and Japan

US-headed carbon recycler pioneer LanzaTech Inc., continues to make strides in scaling up its alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) platform. Commercialization of the AtJ process has been years in the making, starting with the partnership between LanzaTech and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Now the company would seem to be on the cusp of AtJ commercialization with two if not three biorefinery projects on three continents.

LanzaTech’s Chief Sustainability and People Officer Freya Burton at the 2018 Advanced Biofuels Conference in Gothenburg Sweden discussing Lanzanol waste gas-to-ethanol fuel and alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) pathways. Shortly thereafter, Virgin Atlantic carried out the first commercial flight using LanzaTech’s sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) developed a unique catalytic process to upgrade ethanol to alcohol-to-jet synthetic paraffinic kerosene (ATJ-SPK) which LanzaTech took from the laboratory to pilot scale.

After scale up, qualification by the international standards organization, ASTM and the first commercial flight with Virgin Atlantic, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from captured pollution is ready for full-scale demonstration and commercialization.

Integrated biorefinery in the US

At the recently concluded Advanced Bioenergy Leadership Conference (ABLCNext 2019) in San Francisco, California (CA), Michael Berube, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation at the United States (US) Department of Energy (DOE), announced that the DOE is in the “negotiation stage” with LanzaTech for a US$14 million investment.

Alcohol-to-jet production units at LanzaTech Freedom Pines Biorefinery in Soperton, Georgia. (photo courtesy LanzaTech).

Alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) production units at LanzaTech Freedom Pines Biorefinery in Soperton, Georgia (GA). The United States (US) Department of Energy (DOE) has announced U$14 million investment in demonstration-scale integrated biorefineries. This investment, a continuation of a Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) selection, is being negotiated with LanzaTech (photo courtesy LanzaTech).

The funds will be used in a demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery at LanzaTech’s Freedom Pines site in Soperton, Georgia (GA).

LanzaTech still has some remaining work to do under the initial award, and we have some negotiations to complete. But we’re very excited about the prospects of this project and what it could mean for demonstrating the viability of drop-in biofuels in the United States, said Berube.

Attractive for investors

This investment follows the FY2015 Project Development for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), under which LanzaTech’s proposal was selected for a feasibility study to plan and design an integrated biorefinery that will produce low-carbon jet and diesel fuels.

LanzaTech’s process can use any source of sustainable ethanol for jet fuel production, including ethanol made from recycled carbon pollution such as blast furnace gas from steel mills. LanzaTech’s first commercial plant in China has, the company says, produced over 10 million (US) gallons (≈ 38.75 million litres) of ethanol from recycled steel mill emissions to date.

In Europe, LanzaTech has a similar steel industry blast furnace gas to “Steelanol” project underway with ArcelorMittal that was first announced in 2015.

US dollars

Investors from outside the aviation, fuels, and energy sectors are showing investment interest in LanzaTech.

Apart from public funding and consortium partners in the various projects, other external investors have shown interest too. BASF Venture Capital, the investment arm of global chemicals major BASF announced its interest in 2018 while in August 2019, Novo Holdings said it was making a US$72 million investment.

The upshot of these two investors is that ethanol is also a platform chemical that can be used for other purposes than for road- and aviation biofuels, for instance, biochemicals and low-carbon “CarbonSmart” polymers for consumer products.

Japanese biorefinery plans as a result of ANA partnership

One attraction is the seeming flexibility of the technology to utilize a variety of local waste feedstocks. This is what captured the attention of All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest 5-Star airline for seven consecutive years, resulting in an offtake agreement with LanzaTech signed in June 2019, allowing ANA to purchase SAF from LanzaTech’s process.

Following on from this agreement, ANA, a strategic investor in LanzaTech, Mitsui & Co Ltd., and JXTG Energy have been selected by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) – a prominent Japanese public research and development body – to conduct a feasibility study on scaling the LanzaTech AtJ platform in Japan.

All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline Japan signed an off-take agreement with LanzaTech in June 2019 that will allow ANA to purchase sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Together the partners will establish a sustainable domestic supply chain for AtJ, which is key to achieving full commercial deployment in Japan. ANA and Mitsui & Co kicked off the project by conducting a Boeing 777-300ER delivery flight using SAF made from recycled carbon on October 30, 2019.

Sustainable aviation fuel reduces carbon emissions by up to 80 percent and is a key element of the industry’s climate action strategy. ANA’s flight demonstrated once again that sustainable fuel blends perfectly with conventional fuel without the need for any changes to the airplane, engines or airport fueling infrastructure, said Sheila Remes, Vice President of Strategy at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

As the fuel producer, LanzaTech worked closely with all partners, advising how best to transport and blend the fuel for loading on the aircraft.

We are very excited to continue our efforts to establish higher standards for eco-friendly travel alongside NEDO, Mitsui & Co. and JXTG. This project closely aligns with our vision of a world where companies proactively respond to calls for environmentally-friendly leadership and this is just one of many steps ANA is taking to meet the ambitious sustainable development goals that we have set, said Yutaka Ito, Executive Vice President of ANA.

A possible UK biorefinery in the wings

LanzaTech’s carbon capture platform for SAF is now poised for scale-up in the United States and Japan. In the UK, LanzaTech is a shortlisted applicant for a grant from the UK Department for Transport (DfT) through the Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition (F4C).

Feed, fuel and chemical products such as ethanol, acetone, synthetic diesel, and jet are just some of LanzaTech’s outputs.

This grant would support the deployment of the technology in the UK, and LanzaTech has been working closely with the DfT as they assess the technology and its sustainability profile.

Commercial volumes of sustainable aviation fuel are desperately needed. The aviation sector is working hard to decarbonize and there are more options on the table than ever before. We are excited to play our part by accelerating scaling AtJ, ended Dr Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech.

With three potential biojet scale-up projects in three countries on three continents, the US, Japan, and the UK, LanzaTech is supporting global production of SAF, with associated regional job creation, enabling global access to new sustainable fuels for the aviation sector as it seeks to decarbonize.

And if for some reason AtJ should not fly, then there is always chemical recycling of CarbonSmart end-of-life consumer plastics route further down the road.

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