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The sustainable aviation fuel industry is landing in Georgia with LanzaJet's new plant

An aerial view of an airplane waiting on the tarmac. The white body of the plane and wings is complimented by horizontal white and black stripes on the ground in front of the plane's nose.
Image Credit: Wix

As the airline industry scrambles to find ways to cut the roughly 3% of global greenhouse emissions that come from flying, it's increasingly turning to sustainable aviation fuel as a potential solution.

This fuel, made from agricultural waste or other biological sources that trap the carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming, could offset the pollution from flying with the fuel source used to fly the plane.

It's a thesis that's yet to be tested at scale, which is why the completion of a large sustainable aviation fuel plant in the heart of Georgia is a big deal for the industry.

LanzaJet, a startup company spun out from the carbon capture and utilization company, Lanzatech, built the Georgia plant, which is nearing completion and should be online by next year.

The new plant should produce 10 million gallons of fuel per year, according to the company's estimates.

That's a drop in the bucket for an industry that consumes about 18 billion gallons of fuel per year. But LanzaJet aims to scale its production to 1 billion gallons per year.

Its ambitions align with an aggressive plan laid out by the Biden administration to produce 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel by 2050.

The project in Georgia is the first of several LanzaJet has planned to build capacity for sustainable fuels.

An airplane sits on a tarmac with a boarding stepladder, and its cargo carriage open. Logos for major airlines are emblazoned on its nose.
Image Credit: Unsplash/Ian Taylor

Construction will be completed in 2023 with commission and startup beginning next year, according to a statement from the company. And with its output, the facility will double the amount of aviation fuel currently produced in the U.S., according to the company.

"Building a new industry and scaling new technology is exciting while at the same time challenging. We've enjoyed the privilege of partnering with incredible public and private sector leaders to support our work on this journey," said Jimmy Samartzis, LanzaJet CEO. "Fabrication and construction of our novel process technology that converts ethanol into drop-in, replacement sustainable aviation fuel is completed, and installation has begun at site. This is a significant milestone on our journey and also for the development of the SAF industry."

The company has raised roughly $150 million in funding, from its founding shareholders including International Airlines Group, LanzaTech, Mitsui & Co., Shell, and Suncor Energy along with investors like Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, Breakthrough Energy, and All Nippon Airways.

"I'm excited to see LanzaJet continue to soar ahead as they develop sustainable aviation fuel," said Georgia's newly re-elected Senator Reverand Raphael Warnock. "I was proud that the Inflation Reduction Act, which is now law, enacted provisions from the AERO Act, a bill I introduced and championed to boost sustainable aviation fuel production and bring more clean energy jobs to Georgia. I've long believed our state has a bright future as we keep growing the green economy and I look forward to continuing my close partnership with LanzaJet."

The SAF produced at LanzaJet Freedom Pines Fuels will help reduce aviation emissions tangibly and quickly, producing nine million gallons of SAF and one million gallons of diesel annually, the company said.

"Together, we are showing the world that we can change how we procure, use, and dispose of carbon," said Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech and Chair of the LanzaJet Board. "We must be able to travel and see family and friends without compromising our values and our planet. We are showing the world that we can create domestic supplies of sustainable fuel, create secure supply chains, create new jobs, and support local industry."

LanzaJet's alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) was developed with the U.S Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), technology and uses low-carbon intensity, sustainable ethanol available in the market today from a variety of feedstocks such as agricultural waste, energy crops, and other plentiful sources.

Some industry observers and academics are skeptical of the viability of the industry's plans.

“It doesn’t add up,” Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Riverside, told the Financial Times in an interview last year.

“It adds up if people say they don’t want to eat meat any more and you take that land that used to grow feed grains for meat and grow biomass for aviation,” Babcock added. “But short of that, if the aviation industry wants to make 400 billion liters of fuel from biomass, it will take 100 million hectares of land."

Other potential solutions include adopting short-haul, electric aircraft for different kinds of flights -- something the industry is also pursuing.

That said, in Europe, countries like France are taking a different approach. France banned short-haul trips where there's an option to take less carbon intensive transportation options like buses or trains.

“This is a major step forward and I am proud that France is a pioneer in this area,” France’s Transport Minister Clément Beaune said in a statement.

France's decision was approved by the European Commission and other nations may follow the French lead in addressing emissions from the airline industry.

To shift travel away from carbon intensive air trips, a number of countries including, Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are all working on revamping rail lines across Europe, according to a recent report from The Next Web.

Germany, for instance is itching the revival of the Trans Europe Express to provide express train service between it and several other countries. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic is working with French train lines to create high-speed lines to cut travel time between Prague, Brno, and Ostrava with East Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland. Finally, the Dutch rail company has a new high-speed train running between Amsterdam and Brussels.


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