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Could jet fuel made from captured CO2 change the fuel industry? Air Company thinks so.

Air Company, the carbon tech company that’s dabbled in carbon-captured vodka, perfume, and even hand sanitizer, is taking its technology to the sky. Last Thursday at Climate Week NYC the company unveiled its newest venture: Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) made from captured CO2.

According to Canary Media, to Air Company, carbon capture utilization (CCU) products they produce are “stepping stones to get to massive commodities,” CEO and Co-Founder Gregory Constantine said. “From a decarbonization point of view, [aviation] is where we can have the most climate impact,”

According to the company, global aviation firms like JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic, and Boom Supersonic have already pledged to purchase over one billion gallons of Air Company’s AIRMADE™ SAF over the next decade. The company is making the jet fuel in small batches and has launched a test flight in partnership with the United States Air Force, which has placed a 5-gallon order. The announcement comes on the heels of a $30 million investment round in April led by JetBlue’s and Toyota’s venture capital arms, bringing Air Company’s total funding to $40 million.

"Our goal as an organization has always been to expand into industries where our technology will have the largest impact and the most CO2 reduction," Gregory Constantine said at the Climate Week event.

"We have been quietly working on this innovation, and we're proud to debut this SAF technology and commercialization in partnership with some of the most impactful and innovative companies in the world.

The aviation industry is a leading contributor to excess CO2 in our atmosphere, and with this announcement, we and our partners aim to create a direct pathway towards a seismic shift away from legacy fossil-fuel-based production in a cost-effective manner.”

Aviation represents 2-3% of global CO2 emissions and is widely considered one of the most "hard to decarbonize" industries. The global industry is setting targets to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but there is skepticism on if the industry will be able to succeed.

As a recent 2022 briefing led by organizations such as the Energy Transitions Commission and the Rocky Mountain Institute, explains, it will take a multi-pronged approach, from expanding access to renewable electricity to accelerating developments of net-zero aircraft to improving efficiency, to scaling up SAFs.

SAFs are low-carbon alternatives that aim to deliver the performance of traditional petroleum-based jet fuel without the carbon footprint. Usually, they’re made from renewable biomass and waste resources like animal fats, sea scum, and even food scraps. Most use things like corn, soybean, and cooking oil.

As SAF demand expands, experts warn relying on these materials could have adverse effects like deforestation, food supply displacement, and perpetuating industrial animal farming.

Still, most aviation analysts agree that SAFs are going to play a central role in reducing emissions, especially for long-haul flights and larger aircraft. Short-haul flights, on the other hand, could likely be sustainably powered by batteries and hydrogen.

Air Company is among a growing fleet of startups trying to replace petroleum-based kerosene in tandem with developing the next generation of alternatives including CO2-to-fuel startup Twelve, waste-to-plane and cargo biofuel company XFuel, and steel mill waste-to-ethonol company LanzaTech.

Government support will play a leading role in scaling up SAFs. As of last year, the Biden administration aims to increase U.S. production of SAFs to 3 billion gallons per year by 2030. The newly passed Inflation Reduction Act has given the ambition a much-needed funding boost.

According to the company, AIRMADE SAF shows the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 97% compared to traditional jet fuel. This significant reduction in carbon intensity is due to the use of CO2 as a direct feedstock with renewable energy, creating “a more sustainable carbon life cycle.”

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