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Transformational technology to put air travel on a flight path towards a net-zero future
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Andy Hemingway
President, Energy, Optimisation and Innovation

Huge advances have been made in the electrification of cars using batteries. Manufacturers globally are re-writing business plans and transforming their factories to assemble models for a world where the electric car replaces the internal combustion engine.

But where batteries fall short is in the heavy transport and aviation sectors. Earlier this year, the UK aviation industry reaffirmed its joint commitment to net-zero by setting out its first interim decarbonisation milestones.  These targets show the sector’s clear intention to drive rapid decarbonisation with a 15% reduction in emissions by 2030 and 40% by 2040.  To achieve these ambitious goals, ingenuity in Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is vital to provide a viable, near-term solution that can build early momentum.

Battery charge point

This was recognised by the UK’s aviation industry, who called on government to provide a demand signal and price support that could help to turbo-charge the development of a SAF industry, with a target of up to 14 plants generating sustainable fuel from household, industrial waste and bio-based feedstocks by the mid-2030s.  In the US, the Biden administration is also setting targets to help boost SAF production to shift the aviation industry away from using traditional petroleum-based jet fuel. Earlier this month, the White House has set in motion efforts to build up the complete biofuels value chain – from sustainable feedstock production through renewable fuels production and end use in aviation and transportation driving for 20% lower aviation emissions by 2030

The development of these fuels is already technically possible but working together is paramount. Wood knows the important role that partnerships will play in unlocking access to new and innovative energy frontiers and is working with long-standing partner, Honeywell UOP, to combine our technologies to produce carbon-neutral, and even carbon negative, renewable fuels which could transform the aviation industry.

Honeywell UOP’s Ecofining™ process converts non-edible natural oils, animal fats and other waste feedstocks to Honeywell Green Diesel™ and Honeywell Green Jet Fuel™, which are chemically identical to their petroleum-based counterparts.  The process requires significant volumes of hydrogen and, with more than 60 years of experience in the hydrogen sphere, Wood’s Steam Methane Reformer (SMR) technology is combined with Ecofining™ to produce the biofuels. These fuels not only offer improved performance over commercial petroleum-based diesel and jet fuels but can be used as a drop-in replacement in vehicles and aircraft with no equipment modifications. In some instances, the final product has a freeze point at or below -40°C and a flash point at or above 38°C. This makes it particularly useful as a stable aviation fuel to, safely and responsibly, fly people and products worldwide.

To support the energy transition, novel project delivery models are just as critical to process technology. UOP and Wood have developed approaches which can significantly reduce project delivery timeframes from those of traditional models. This collective offering is modular and therefore easy to transport providing enhanced price and schedule certainty.  Our clients can dictate their own schedule with this flexible solution which could become key in helping them start to drive emissions reduction and reposition their operations to align with a net-zero future.

Lad looking out of aeroplane window

H2 contellation

We are currently delivering our first project together at the Omega Green production facility in Paraguay. In the first advanced biofuels project in South America, Honeywell UOP is using the Ecofining™ process with our hydrogen plant technology to produce up to 20,000 barrels per day of renewable diesel and jet fuel.  It is expected to be the largest private investment in a single project in the country’s history with the construction phase creating more than 3,000 jobs and a further 2,400 direct and indirect jobs to be created when the plant is fully operational. It is estimated more than 20,000 smallholder family farms will benefit from social certification programmes to produce and supply the feedstocks for the plant.

refinery by night

This is a perfect example of taking proven technologies, combining and customising them for a new application with a transformational result, to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits.

Collaborative partnerships are vital to the success and development of technology for a net-zero future. Innovation needs collaboration. We live in a world where the pace of technology moves forward at a phenomenal rate.

One of the most exciting benefits of collaboration is the opportunity to overcome obstacles together, when it might not be possible independently.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world, the aviation industry has had to quickly adapt and respond to a constant flux of new regulations and restrictions to the way it operates.  It has been compelled to look to technological advances, for example in cleaning and air conditioning systems, to stop the spread of the virus.

Another symptom of the pandemic has been to crystalise the urgency of decarbonisation, not only in the aviation industry, but across sectors and worldwide.  The demand for diesel and jet fuel continues to grow globally andthe desire to travel is not going away.  But society wants to travel more sustainably,and it is our responsibility toalign air travel to be ready for a net-zero world.  If we get this right, we will safeguard the industry’s licence to operate and the opportunity for future generations to enjoy the privilege of exploring the world.

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