TFFood NewsSustainable aviation fuel won’t be in short supply, manufacturers say
TFFood NewsSustainable aviation fuel won’t be in short supply, manufacturers say
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Sustainable aviation fuel won’t be in short supply, manufacturers say

MARKETS Manufacturers of sustainable aviation fuel say the increase in light duty electric vehicles has created an ethanol surplus

Glacier FarmMedia – Sustainable aviation fuel manufacturers say they won’t compromise food supplies despite consuming large volumes of agricultural products.

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The US government has established goals of scaling up SAF production to three billion gallons by 2030 and 35 billion gallons by 2050. Most of that fuel is expected to be made using agricultural feedstocks, at least initially.

Domestic canola groups have flagged Canadian and US biofuel as a major growth avenue for the oilseed.

The projections created a resurgence of the food-versus-fuel debate that first surfaced during the ethanol boom of the late-2000s, when critics also worried that crop markets bound for the gas tank would pressure food streams.

That’s outdated thinking, according to a panel of SAF manufacturers who presented at the Agri-Pulse Ag & Food Policy Summit earlier this year.

Alex Menotti, vice-president of government affairs, policy and sustainability at LanzaJet, said his company just opened the world’s first ethanol-to-jet SAF plant in Georgia. It will be converting 10 million gallons of ethanol per year into SAF and diesel.

The plant represents one-third of total current US SAF production.

The country is a long way from meeting its goal of three billion gallons, or 10 per cent of all jet fuel use in the United States.

However, Menotti said he is confident the ambitious target will be achieved. LanzaJet plans to produce one-third of that total without compromising food supplies.

There is plenty of excess ethanol production in the US due to the electrification of light duty vehicles in that country, he argued. Ethanol demand for those vehicles isn’t what it once was. SAF offers a way to mop up that excess.

“Alcohol-to-jet can solve a lot of problems, frankly,” he said.

He framed SAF as a redistribution of existing ethanol production and said there likely won’t be huge spikes in new production.

Alan Weber, founding partner of MARC-IV, is helping promote alternative oilseed crops that will be used to make SAF.

The company is focused on crops such as camelina, covercress, brassica carinata and winter canola. All those can be grown as cover crops, a practice linked to improved soil health.

Weber said the feedstocks are geographically complementary to each other. Camelina will be grown in the Pacific Northwest and Plains regions of the US; covercress is suitable for the Midwest; winter canola is slated for the mid-south and carinata can be grown in the far south between Texas and Florida.

These newcomers will not eat up food-producing acres, Weber said. For example, camelina can be planted during the fallow years in a wheat-fallow-wheat rotation in the Pacific Northwest. Covercress is planted after the corn harvest in the Midwest and harvested before soybean planting.

That helps the feedstocks achieve low carbon intensity scores sought by SAF manufacturers.

Weber also noted that corn and soybean yields have increased by 30 per cent over the past two decades thanks to new practices and innovation. For soybeans, that translates to an extra 12 bushels per acre, resulting in another 12.5 billion pounds of soybean oil production per year.

The renewable fuel sector consumed 13 billion pounds of soybean oil last year, almost entirely covered by the productivity increase.

“We’re going to continue to innovate, and the feedstocks will be there,” Weber said.

Tim Obitts, chief executive officer of Alder Renewables, said his firm is building its first commercial plant that will convert woody biomass, agricultural residues and purpose-grown energy crops into SAF and other products.

The company is using residues as its feedstock, such as nut shells, sugar bagasse, sawdust and regenerative grasses such as miscanthus that will be grown on fallow land.

He said farmers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to SAF.

“You are above ground oil wells,” said Obitts, but one thing concerns him.

“There’s going to be a clash between Europe and the US”

The European Union won’t allow sugar and corn to be used to create jet fuel, he noted. US corn farmers are also battling to get their government to recognize corn ethanol as an eligible feedstock, and most analysts believe that will eventually happen.

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