Sustainable fuel from alcohol: this is Bill Gates’ great commitment to the future

The aeronautical industry committed to achieving the total decarbonization of the sector, promised for the year 2050. In search of solutions to reduce the negative effects that its activity causes in the environment, and with the electric planes or of hydrogen Still far from being viable options, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) appears to be a more realistic alternative in the immediate future.

The term SAF is used for those fuels used in jet aircraft that are considered sustainable. To do this, they must prove a reduction in greenhouse gases of between 50 and 65% compared to conventional fossil fuels, as well as production from renewable raw materials. The great advantage of the SAF is that they can replace the traditional fuel without the need to buy new aircraft, as it is compatible with existing aircraft and infrastructure.

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There are different ways to obtain the SAF. For example, with used cooking oil, biomass waste, plants, etc. Even through the alcohol: an innovative solution supported, neither more nor less, by the billionaire and activist against climate change, Bill Gates. Thus, the company Breakthrough Energy, whose founder is the tycoon, has announced a grant of 50 million dollars (about 48 million euros at current exchange rates) that will go to the first plant to produce SAF from alcohol.

Funding from Gates’ company, through the Catalyst program, is given to LanzaJet, a North American producer of SAF and other sustainable fuels that promotes the energy transition to combat the climate crisis. The technology used for this challenge, called alcohol-to-jetcan reduce the carbon footprint of fuels by “at least 70%” compared to those from oil, say those responsible.

An airplane landing on the airport runway

An airplane landing on the airport runway

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And it is not a minor thing, since some calculations indicate that aviation is responsible for 2% of global CO₂ emissions emitted by humans into the atmosphere. Thus, the startup uses ethanol -which is extracted from products such as sugar cane or corn grain- to manufacture sustainable fuel with the method alcohol-to-jet. The company claims that airlines can mix it in their planes with up to 50% of conventional fuel.

However, today it is difficult for the use of alternative fuels to expand, since their manufacturing costs are still too high when compared to fossil fuels. In addition, there are no plants that manufacture, sell and market SAFs on a large scale, so the grant of 50 million dollars is intended to serve as a boost to begin to reverse this situation.

The high production costs and the lack of plants make it difficult to expand the SAF

The sum of money will be invested in a new LanzaJet plant in the town of Soperton (Georgia), which is expected to be operational by 2023. If everything goes according to its plans, the company’s forecast is to produce 34 million liters annually of sustainable fuel and 3.7 million diesel renewable when the factory is fully operational, which would help to reduce the cost of these fuels.

The new facility “will play a fundamental role in expanding the production of SAF and in the commercialization of lower-cost sustainable fuels,” they explain from LanzaJet in a statement. A piece of information to put it in perspective: if the estimated production is reached, the current manufacturing of SAF will practically double in the USA.

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This increase in production, linked to an increase in the demand for sustainable fuels forecast for the coming years, could result in significant progress in the decarbonisation of the sector. In fact, both manufacturers (Airbus, Boeing, etc.) and some airlines (British Airways, Air France, Iberia, KLM, Iberia, Lufthansa, etc.) have already slowly started to implement SAF on some of their flights.

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Sustainable fuel from alcohol: this is Bill Gates’ great commitment to the future