Aerion teams with Carbon Engineering on DAC-sourced synthetic jet fuels for its supersonic business aircraft
Wed 22 July 2020 – Supersonic aircraft company Aerion is teaming with Canadian clean energy company Carbon Engineering (CE) to develop synthetic fuels towards ambitions of making Aerion’s AS2 business jet the world’s first carbon-neutral supersonic commercial aircraft. CE’s direct air capture (DAC) technology captures CO2 directly from the atmosphere and can be converted into drop-in transportation fuels using water and clean electricity. The two partners will jointly assess requirements to power AS2’s non-afterburning Affinity engine, which is being developed and built by GE, with 100% synthetic fuels. They will also explore a potential collaborative project to build an air-to-fuels plant to produce synthetic fuel specifically for AS2 operators. Aerion says it is the first aircraft OEM to commit to carbon-neutral operations. Boom Supersonic last year teamed with Prometheus Fuels on a carbon-neutral synthetic fuel for its XB-1 demonstrator supersonic aircraft.
CE’s pilot plant in British Columbia has been removing CO2 from the atmosphere since 2015 and converting it into fuels since 2017. With partner Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental, the company is engineering a commercial scale DAC facility capable of capturing one million tons of CO2 per year. Along with synthetic jet fuel developer SAF+ Consortium (see article), CE is one of four finalists in the Canadian green aviation fuels innovation competition ‘The Sky’s the Limit Challenge’.
Whereas SAF+ Consortium is capturing CO2 from an industrial flue stack, CE’s DAC technology captures CO2 from the atmosphere, which can either be permanently stored deep underground or used to produce clean transportation fuels. At large scale, CE claims its DAC technology can capture CO2 from the air for around $100 per ton of CO2 and plants can be placed in locations where there is abundant low-cost, local renewable energy to power the facility.
The DAC process pulls in atmospheric air and then through a series of chemical reactions, extracts the CO2 from it while returning the rest of the air to the environment. This simulates what plants and trees do as they photosynthesise, except DAC technology can do it much faster, with a smaller land footprint, and delivers the CO2 in a pure, compressed form, says CE.
Fuels made from atmospheric CO2 create a circular system of emissions, said Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering, which includes Microsoft’s Bill Gates as one of its investors. “Our DAC technology captures yesterday’s emitted CO2 and converts it into fuel. When used in any vehicle, the carbon is returned to the atmosphere as CO2, however, the process then captures it again to make more fuel,” he explained. “So, we continually re-use existing CO2 and little or no new carbon emissions are created. This provides a way to decarbonise sectors of transportation that are difficult to electrify and that require the high energy density of liquid fuels, such as aviation or shipping.”
Currently due to commence flight testing in 2025 and enter into service in 2026, the 12-passenger AS2 is aiming for a cruising speed of Mach 1.4 and a projected range of 8,800 kilometres. Aerion says the aircraft is designed to be “inherently environmentally friendly” as it will be the first supersonic aircraft without an afterburner and with no sonic boom reaching the ground, and with the ability to accept 100% biofuels – as opposed to blends. It also says it is the first OEM to plan for carbon-neutral operations via carbon reduction strategies rather than resorting to carbon offsets.
“At Aerion we take environmental stewardship very seriously and we believe that speed and being kind to our planet do not need to be mutually exclusive,” said Tom Vice, Aerion’s CEO. “As we build the next generation of high-speed transportation networks, we recognise the need to create a broad ecosystem of innovative partnerships to achieve our vision of carbon neutral point-to-point global travel. We seek partners and technology visionaries who share our vision to passionately pursue addressing climate change.”
Another company promising carbon-neutral commercial supersonic flight is Boom, which is developing its Mach 2.2 XB-1 demonstrator aircraft that is slated to start flight testing in 2021 and is the forerunner to Boom’s Overture passenger supersonic aircraft due to fly in the second half of the decade. In June last year, Boom announced a partnership with Prometheus Fuels, which is also using DAC technology to transform CO2 into jet fuel, to supply fuel for the test programme. Last week, Boom announced a roll-out of the XB-1 will take place in October. Boom says it has 30 Overture aircraft on pre-order, including from operators Japan Airlines and Virgin Group.
Prometheus recently raised a funding round of $12.5 million, led by BMW i Ventures. It represents BMW’s first-ever investment in carbon capture technology.
Steve Oldham of Carbon Engineering presents at TEDx: