UK government recommits to funding support for development of advanced aviation biofuels
Mon 28 Aug 2017 – The UK government has recommitted to providing up to £22 million ($28m) towards funding for projects to develop advanced low carbon, waste-based advanced fuels for planes and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). The fund, which must be matched by industry, is expected to help deliver up to five new plants in the UK by 2021 that will produce advanced fuels to be used in aircraft and lorries where it is not yet viable to switch to electric power. The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT), in association with engineering and environmental consultancy Ricardo, first launched the ‘Future Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition’ (F4C) in April to invite applications for the funding but stalled due to the UK general election in May. The DfT reports it has received interest from over 70 groups in bidding for the funding. The UK aviation industry has welcomed the announcement, although it sees the bigger prize as the inclusion of advanced aviation biofuels in the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), on which the government is consulting.
The competition is part of the government’s Modern Industrial Strategy, which sets out to support evolving industries with the potential to boost the economy, explains the DfT, and says low carbon fuels made from waste materials could be worth £600 million ($770m) a year to the British economy by 2030, and could also support up to 9,800 new jobs. The DfT also considers planes and lorries powered by waste fuels could use up to 90% less carbon than traditional fossil fuels.
“We are committed to cutting carbon emissions and promoting new environmentally-friendly fuels that will help us meet that goal,” said Transport Minister Jesse Norman. “We are making funding available to innovative businesses which will lead the way in developing alternative fuels that are efficient, sustainable and clean.
“We want every new car and van in the UK to be zero emission by 2040, but we know lorries and aeroplanes will rely on more traditional fuels for years to come so we must promote environmentally-friendly alternatives.”
Responding to the announcement, UK cross-sector coalition group Sustainable Aviation (SA) welcomed the funding support and said its road map published in 2014 indicated the use of sustainable jet fuels in the UK could contribute to a reduction in aviation CO2 emissions of up to 24% by 2050, as well as significantly reduce particulate emissions. SA added that independent research conducted on its behalf showed domestic production of such fuels could provide between five and 12 sustainable fuel plants in the UK, worth up to £265 million ($340m) a year by 2030 and support up to 4,400 jobs.
In the DfT’s guidance notes for the F4C funding competition when first launched, the funding was to be awarded in two stages. Up to £2 million would be awarded in the Project Development Stage in 2017-18 to support the development of proposals and then up to £20 million in capital grant funding over three years (2018-21) for major demonstration projects “providing transformative and innovative solutions”.
The key objectives, it said, were to increase production of advanced low carbon fuels capable of tackling emissions from the hard-to-decarbonise aviation and HGV sectors “in pursuit of long-term decarbonisation targets” and to stimulate investment and create jobs through “the development of a prosperous domestic industry”.
To be eligible for the funding, fuels under development must be drop-in and the technology must already be at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5, or pilot plant stage, and must successfully attain at least TRL 6 (small demonstration scale) by the end of the project. The technology must not already be at the already-commercialised TRL 8 or 9 stage.
Today’s DfT announcement specifically mentions alternative fuels made from rubbish that gets sent to landfill, termed municipal solid waste (MSW), but the earlier guidance material specifies feedstocks used must be wastes or residues and lists a number of technology conversion routes that are likely to meet the fuel and TRL eligibility criteria. These include gasification, pyrolysis and hydrothermal liquefaction; waste/residue-derived sugars to hydrocarbons; waste/residue-derived alcohols; and renewable fuels of non-biological origin using catalysis of renewable hydrogen and a waste CO2 source to produce a non-oxygenated fuel.
Fuels produced from first generation feedstocks, such as those from crops, or from animal fats or used cooking oil are not eligible.
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are keen to see a UK industry develop in the production of advanced aviation fuels. Since the demise of its partnership with US biofuel company Solena Fuels in 2015 (see article), BA has so far not announced its future intentions, although it remains keen to pursue the MSW-to-jet fuel route it was developing with Solena, a technology already approved for commercial aviation use by certification body ASTM. Virgin Atlantic is backing LanzaTech, which is developing technology to produce jet fuel from industrial waste gases, although the process has yet to be approved by ASTM.
“The industry is still working with the government to ensure as many innovative schemes as possible are supported to make sustainable aviation fuel,” Dr Andy Jefferson, Sustainable Aviation’s Programme Director, told GreenAir. “This includes both waste that would otherwise go to landfill or waste gas products from industrial processes.”
The aviation industry, meanwhile, is awaiting the outcome of a government consultation launched late last year that proposes to include aviation in the RTFO, a scheme designed to ensure a proportion of renewable fuels is used in transport but which is currently restricted to road vehicles (see article). Tradable certificates (RTFCs) are awarded to suppliers of sustainable biofuel, which provide a valuable incentive to producers, although the government says it is not proposing the same mandate that applies to road transport. Under the proposal, renewable aviation fuels would be eligible in line with liquid road fuels, therefore 1 RTFC per litre, with double rewards for biofuels made from wastes and residues, subject to sustainability criteria.
“We are hopeful of a further announcement from the government regarding aviation’s inclusion in the RTFO, to ensure the opportunities from sustainable aviation fuels are fully realised,” said Sustainable Aviation.