The latest from Bill Gates is to promote alcohol as an alternative to oil on planes: this is his proposal

It is possible that over time some passenger aircraft will operate with alcohol derived fuel instead of oil. This idea may seem a little crazy, but the future of alternative fuels, amid the growing need to find sustainable solutions, is increasingly promising.

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s best-known climate change activists, is the founder of Breakthrough Energy. This company has announced that will finance with a grant of 50 million dollars the first plant to produce Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) based on alcohol.

Alcohol-derived fuel as an alternative to petroleum

Breakthrough Energy’s contribution, through its Catalyst program, is earmarked for LanzaJet. It is a well-known supplier of SAF and biofuels with more than a decade of presence in the industry that over the years has developed different technologies that aim at the energy transition, among them, alcohol-to-jet (ATJ).

In a world where aviation represents approximately between 2 and 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions per year, and with many airlines focused on achieving “carbon neutrality”, alcohol-to-jet promises to reduce emissions by “at least 70% compared to fossil fuels” .

LanzaJet’s promise was very good, but there are essentially three problems. SAF production currently represents less than 1% of total aviation fuel production; prices are not competitive with fossil fuels, and there is no plant to produce itsell it and distribute it at scale.

Breakthrough Energy and LanzaJet are confident that in the coming years they will be able to overcome all three of these challenges. The $50 million grant from the Bill Gates-founded company will build the ATJ plant which is expected to be operational as early as 2023 and play a critical role in expanding SAF’s global production and competitiveness. .

If everything goes according to plan, when the plant is fully operational it will be able to produce 34 million liters of ATJ annually. This increase in production should be accompanied by a greater demand for SAF in general, which are already being used in a mixture on some commercial flights with passengers. and that we have also seen evidence in helicopters.

How is alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) produced?

LanzaJet uses continuous catalytic reforming (CCR) that converts ethanol (pharmaceutical alcohol type) into synthetic paraffinic kerosene (also known by the acronym SPK, Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene) or synthetic paraffinic diesel (SPD). It achieves this through four steps that have been tested on a commercial scale: dehydration, oligomerization, hydrogenation and fractionation.

As for the ethanol to produce this alternative fuel, it can come from biomass residues, solid waste or industrial waste gases. The fact that there are several sources of supply can be an advantage when it comes to maintaining production and reducing its marketing price.

LanzaJet ensures that its ATJ fuel meets or exceeds jet fuel specifications ASTM D7566 Annex A5. In that sense, they point out that customers can mix it with up to 50% of conventional aviation fuel to use it in their planes without the need to modify the planes.

It remains to be seen how this proposal will evolve to reduce carbon emissions from commercial aviation. However, it should be noted that there are also other ideas in the worksalthough not all are equally promising. The electric passenger plane has just overcome a key challenge and the idea of ​​flying using solar energy, as the Solar Impulse IIis also on the horizon.

Images: Jason Rosewell | LaunchJet

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The latest from Bill Gates is to promote alcohol as an alternative to oil on planes: this is his proposal