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Shell invests in aviation biofuels startup LanzaJet

Funding from oil giant aims to help scale production of waste-based fuel that can be mixed into conventional jet fuel in bid to reduce carbon footprint of flight


LanzaTech’s carbon capture platform for sustainable aviation fuel is poised for scale up in the United States and Japan.

Shell has invested in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) firm LanzaJet, joining Japanese trading house Mitsui, Canadian oil and gas firm Suncor Energy and U.K. airline British Airways as an early-stage backer in the U.S. startup.

Announced last week, LanzaJet said the undisclosed investment sum would accelerate the commercialization of its innovative "alcohol-to-jet" technology, which converts ethanol gleaned from a range of waste materials into low-carbon jet fuel.

The U.S. firm expects to start commercially producing the low-carbon fuel for the aviation sector in 2022, when a plant under construction in Georgia is scheduled to come online.

The firm is taking a phased investment approach with its corporate backers, enabling them to invest additional capital as the company scales, it explained. As such, it said Shell also would be able to make further investments to fund the construction of other large-scale plants over the coming years.

The startup claims its sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) can be produced using any source of sustainable ethanol and can deliver a 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis compared to conventional fossil jet fuel. It predicts roughly 90 percent of its production output will be aviation fuel, with the remaining 10 percent "renewable diesel."

We've been at a crossroads for years, and we're now at a point in time when real solutions matter to address the global need to get to net-zero.

Shell Aviation president Anna Mascolo said the investment would bolster its existing growing expertise in biofuels, which includes its bioethanol production joint venture with Brazilian energy firm Raizen.

"Our access to feedstocks, experience of optimizing supply chains and extensive sales and marketing business will hopefully contribute to LanzaJet creating sustainable, robust and scalable commercial operations, supporting our customers' decarbonization ambitions for many years to come," she said.

Mascolo claimed LanzaJet's technology would help address growing demand for aviation fuels across the aviation sector. "LanzaJet's technology opens up a new and exciting pathway to produce SAF using an alcohol-to-jet process and will help address the aviation sector's urgent need for SAF," she said. "It demonstrates the industry can move faster and deliver more when we all work together. Provided industry, government and society collaborate on appropriate policy mechanisms and regulations to drive both supply and demand, aviation can achieve net-zero carbon emissions."

Advocates argue that SAFs, which can be mixed into conventional jet fuels to reduce the emissions intensity of plane journeys, offer the fastest way to decarbonize the aviation sector, while also creating jobs as part of a greener economy. The solution enjoys growing support from government and industry; last month, the U.K. government launched a $20.6 million competition geared at spurring the development of a wave of SAF production facilities in the U.K., and earlier this year Boeing revealed plans to produce planes capable of flying on 100 percent SAF by the end of the decade.

However, critics have questioned the scale of the emissions savings on offer from such fuels. They also have warned that feedstocks are limited and will not be able to fully displace the sector's reliance on fossil fuels. Some have argued that the sector's embrace of new fuels is a distraction from the need to curb demand for flights and invest in zero-emission technologies, such as electric and fuel cell aircraft, that can deliver more substantive emissions reductions.

But LanzaJet CEO Jimmy Samartzis emphasized SAFs were a "real solution" to decarbonization of aviation, a sector he said faced otherwise limited options to reduce its emissions.

"We've been at a crossroads for years, and we're now at a point in time when real solutions matter to address the global need to get to net-zero," Samartzis said. "At LanzaJet, we're in a unique position with technology that is ready and scaling today to produce lower-carbon, sustainable fuels. Shell's investment and partnership helps to further advance our work to do our part to decarbonize aviation globally, a sector with limited other options in the near- and mid-term."

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