In context: As more companies focus on reducing their own carbon emissions, a startup is looking to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and create sustainable aviation fuel. He already has a small-scale working process and claims that if he and other manufacturers increase production, he could “mitigate” at least 10% of carbon emissions.
A startup specializing in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has signed a $65 million contract with the US Department of Defense to create jet fuel from scratch. The contract will provide a startup called Airline company funds to advance research and development of a system capable of extracting CO2 from the air and converting it into fuel-grade alcohols and paraffin.
Air Company already has a process for converting CO2 into jet fuel and has published a white paper on the procedure. The company claims to have eliminated a step in the nearly 100-year-old Fischer-Tropsch process. It involves creating, harvesting and storing the CO2 resulting from the industrial fermentation of corn. It then uses the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen gas (H2) and oxygen (O2).
The O2 is released to the atmosphere and the H2 feeds a reactor with the captured CO2 and a catalyst. The chemical reaction produces ethanol, methanol, water and paraffin. Distillation separates these components for use in other products, including vodka, scent, hydroalcoholic geland FAS.
The company cannot yet produce at the scale needed to impact global CO2 levels. However, CEO Gregory Constantine says if Air Company and others can build at scale and all fuel-dependent industries switch to SAF, it could mitigate over 10% of carbon emissions.
“These contracts allow [us] to focus on technology growth and technology development,” Constantine told USA Today. “The heart of our technology is really centered on the use of carbon.
Unfortunately, the company’s lofty goals are still far in the future. While the DoD contract will help Air Company refine its process and build a full-scale production facility, it will take more than one company to produce enough SAF to power the entire aviation industry.
Another complication is that most regulatory bodies maintain specific limits on the use of SAF.
“With current legislation and regulations, there are mixing limits that we have to adhere to,” Constantine said. “The fuel we create contains the components that should not be mixed. We hope that over the next few years these mixing limits will increase and regulations will eventually allow the use of 100% SAF.”
Currently, aviation fuel blends can only contain less than 50% SAF. However, Air Company has partnered with the Air Force to flight test a 100% SAF, which proven succeeded. Dutch airline KLM also tested a pure SAF with its engine manufacturer, concluding that it was safe to burn.
Air Company has already committed to supplying three airlines with SAF — Boom, JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic. Boom has agreed to purchase five million gallons per year for an unspecified contract term to power its Overture supersonic jet. JetBlue signed a five-year contract to buy 25 million gallons, and Virgin promised to recover 100 million gallons over 10 years.