Billions of Gallons of Sustainable Aviation Fuel Will Reduce the Carbon Intensity of Travel

VIDEO: Learn about sustainable aviation fuel and solving the problems of travel and GHG emissions.

As travel restrictions are relaxed and people get back to flying like they used to, it’s as clear as the bright blue sky: The market for aviation fuel isn’t going anywhere. That was always one of the most compelling reasons why Gevo chose to focus on transportation fuels in our plans for energy transition—it’s a huge business segment that people will always want and need.

Because aviation fuel is the largest single expense for air carriers, those companies plan their purchases well in advance and in volumes that make sense for a full flight schedule, and the smarter ones are doing it as they build in a reduced carbon footprint with sustainable aviation fuel.

The U.S. and the EU have set goals that together would support almost 4 billion gallons of annual SAF production in 2030, and more than 45 billion by 2050. Demand for SAF is expected to continue to increase as major U.S. airlines, airports, delivery service companies and freight handlers, and the U.S. government have agreed to work together to advance the use of cleaner sustainable fuels.

“We believe that it is possible to bring on-line a business that delivers and sells one billion gallons of capacity or more per year using the combination of IBA and EtOH to hydrocarbons to serve the SAF and motor fuels markets by 2030,” says Dr. Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo, Inc. “We call this our “billion-gallon initiative,’ and this is what we are working on.”

Remember, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is an advanced renewable fuel that is fungible, meets the ASTM International Standard D7566, and can be blended with petroleum-based jet fuel up to 50 percent (some pathways are approved for blending up to 10 percent). Because it’s a drop-in fuel, it works with all existing equipment and infrastructure, meaning it can be adopted sooner and have a real impact on a widespread basis.

Gevo developed an Alcohol-to-Jet Synthesized Paraffinic Kerosene (ATJ-SPK) pathway using proprietary technologies including genetically modified yeast to produce isobutanol (IBA), a four-carbon alcohol that is a building block to make SAF and other energy-dense renewable hydrocarbons.

But Gevo is not putting all our investment in one pathway, and we announced in September 2021 that we received a patent for a process that encompasses upgrading ethanol (otherwise known as EtOH) and bio-based alcohols into drop-in, bio-based SAF as well as renewable diesel. The United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded Gevo U.S. Patent No. 11,078,433 titled “Conversion of Mixtures of C -C Olefins to Jet Fuel and/or Diesel Fuel in High Yield from Bio-Based Alcohols,” establishing a new technology and route to hydrocarbons that did not previously exist. This creates an opportunity for Gevo to diversify ethanol production to help meet increasing demand for SAF, and falls in line with our business model to develop technology that can be used to produce drop-in hydrocarbon fuels at scale.

Also, we recently partnered with Axens North America, Inc., to speed up the commercialization of sustainable ethanol-to-jet (ETJ) projects. Gevo expects to develop, own, and operate ETJ plants to produce SAF, and we will use our technologies and expertise in renewable alcohol production. Gevo will work to develop these projects by employing our project-financing expertise and apply our sustainable, Net-Zero business model. The partnership means we also will employ Axens technologies, including more than 60 patents, proprietary catalysts and equipment, and engineering packages to provide process guarantees for commercial ETJ projects.

To make a dent in GHG emissions, we need to identify sustainably produced feedstock that is readily available to produce the raw materials that are expected to allow us to make millions of gallons of SAF each year. We joined with ADM in October 2021 to announce a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) to support the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and other low-carbon-footprint hydrocarbon fuels. ADM is a global leader in nutrition and agricultural origination and processing, and our MoU outlines the production of ethanol and isobutanol that would then be transformed into SAF and other renewable low-carbon-footprint hydrocarbons, using our technology and capabilities. ADM’s dry mills in Nebraska, and Iowa, together with its complex in Illinois, produce about 900 million gallons of ethanol each year, which could result in about 500 million gallons of SAF and other renewable hydrocarbons.

Gevo applies these fuel pathways with an integrated approach to reducing carbon emissions and increasing sustainability across the whole business system. That means working with farmers and partners who incorporate regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming techniques to grow a feedstock with reduced carbon intensity, while powering our processes with renewable energy including wind turbines, biogas and renewable natural gas, and combined heat and power (CHP).

Gevo looks at the big picture of sustainability, so we pay attention to land use, produce high-value nutrition products to supply the food chain in meaningful ways as part of our process, and ensure that every facet of our business contributes to responsible water use. The result are multiple pathways to get to a fuel that can be expected to produce net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over its entire lifecycle, and that includes burning it in a jet engine.