All subjects
Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Virent BioForm SAK set to empower another aviation industry first

Virent BioForm SAK set to empower another aviation industry first
Ground test of 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine (photo courtesy Virent).

In the United States (US), biotechnology technology developer Virent, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation, has revealed that its "BioForm" synthesized aromatic kerosene (SAK) has played a key role in a recent jet engine ground test of 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in preparation for the first-ever transatlantic flight powered by 100 percent SAF.

The ground test was conducted on a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine, which is the same engine type that will power a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 from the UK’s London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) later this year.

Bio-based aromatics

SAF – made from used cooking oil (UCO) or other plant-based oil feedstocks – typically has to be blended with petroleum products because SAF lacks a component called “aromatics,” which are required to meet today’s jet fuel specifications.

Virent’s sugars-to-aromatics (S2A) technology produces synthesized aromatic kerosene (SAK) from renewable plant sugars to provide aromatics that are cleaner-burning and more efficient than those in petroleum fuel, enabling 100 percent SAF without the need for petroleum blending.

For the Virgin Atlantic transatlantic flight, Air bp will provide the bulk of the SAF – the 88 percent consisting of the paraffinic compounds – while Virent’s SAK will make up the remaining 12 percent.

With Virent’s plant-based SAK providing the aromatics, this test showed that 100 percent drop-in renewable fuel is cleaner burning and will work seamlessly in today’s commercial airline engines. With the support of our parent company Marathon Petroleum Corporation and our technology partner Johnson Matthey, we are making great strides in sustainable fuels, said Dave Kettner, President and General Counsel of Virent.

Cross-industry collaboration

Getting the 100 percent SAF transatlantic flight off the runway and into the skies requires cross-industry collaboration and dedicated project teams working on the research, testing, and operations.

Jointly funded by the UK Department for Transport (DfT), the effort is being undertaken in the UK by a consortium led by Virgin Atlantic, along with Rolls-Royce, Boeing, the University of Sheffield, Imperial College London, and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).

Virent has been coordinating closely with the consortium as planning progresses toward the milestone flight.

This kind of collaboration isn’t new to Virent, and in fact, I’d say cross-industry collaboration has become one of our core competencies. Just in the SAF space alone, we have been working domestically, internationally, and with a variety of airlines and equipment manufacturers to help demonstrate that – with our BioForm SAK – 100 percent drop-in SAF works with today’s airline fleet and requires no modifications to engines or fueling infrastructure, said Dave Kettner.

In addition, to July’s jet engine ground test, some of Virent’s recent successful collaborations in sustainable aviation include:

  • 2023: Virent’s BioForm SAK made 100 percent SAF possible for a Bell Helicopter demonstration flight, making the Bell 505 the first-ever single-engine aircraft to fly using 100 percent SAF.
  • 2023: Virent’s SAK helped power an Emirates Airline demonstration flight, the first in the Middle East and North Africa to use 100 percent SAF in one engine and traditional jet fuel in the other.
  • 2022: Virent’s BioForm SAK made 100 percent SAF possible for the first original equipment manufacturer test flight of an ultralong-range business jet by Rolls-Royce and Gulfstream.
  • 2021: Virent contributed to an aviation industry first with its BioForm SAK, as United Airlines flew an aircraft full of passengers using 100 percent SAF in one engine and traditional jet fuel in the other.

We’re honored to collaborate with Virgin Atlantic, Rolls-Royce, and Air bp as these forward-looking companies lead the way in sustainable aviation. Virent shares their commitment to finding sustainable ways to fly, and we’re excited about the pivotal role our BioForm SAK will play in this milestone transatlantic flight, ended Dave Kettner.

Most read on Bioenergy International

Get the latest news about Bioenergy

Subscribe for free to our newsletter
Sending request
I accept that Bioenergy International stores and handles my information.
Read more about our integritypolicy here