LanzaJet Inc. announced last week that supermajor Royal Dutch Shell plc had become an investor of the sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) technology company and producer as it continues to search for lower-carbon alternatives to fossil energy.

The investment by Shell comes as LanzaJet is working to build the first Alcohol-to-Jet (AtJ) facility in the world. The commercial-scale plant, Freedom Pine Fuels in Soperton, GA, could produce around 10 million gal/year of AtJ. Operations at the plant are scheduled to begin in 2022. 

The size of the investment was not disclosed. 

“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,” said LanzaJet CEO Jimmy Samartizis. “Shell’s investment and partnership help 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.”

Other heavyweights including supermajor BP plc are developing SAF as an alternative to traditional aviation fuels amid calls for lower-carbon products to help combat climate change.

Launched in June 2020, LanzaJet arose from its founder, LanzaTech, following nearly a decade of technology development on ethanol-based jet fuel carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). 

LanzaJet claims its AtJ process makes it possible to transform any source of sustainable ethanol into jet fuel, including, but not limited to, ethanol made from recycled pollution, which was the core application of LanzaTech’s carbon recycling platform.

The company also says its SAF technology is unique in that it can produce up to 90% of its fuels as SAF, with the remaining 10% as renewable diesel. When built to commercial scale, SAF would be blended with conventional fossil jet fuel as it is supplied to airports. 

LanzaJet’s SAF could be blended with up to 50% fossil jet fuel, the maximum amount allowed by the American Society for Testing and Materials. This mixed fuel can be used in engines without any modifications. 

In terms of its lifecycle, LanzaJet said that its SAF can lead to a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when compared to conventional jet fuels. 

“LanzaJet’s technology opens up a new and exciting pathway to produce SAF using an AtJ process and will help address the aviation sector’s urgent need for SAF,” Shell Aviation President Anna Mascolo said.

Shell Aviation says it is currently working with multiple partners including LanzaJet to supply more SAF while exploring numerous other technology routes for SAF production. Some of Shell’s other SAF partners include World Energy LLC, Neste Oyj, and SkyNRG.

Shell is joining LanzaJet’s founding investors including LanzaTech, Suncor Energy Inc., Mitsui & Co., and British Airways. All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. is also a partner of LanzaJet. 

“Through our Raízen joint venture in Brazil, we have been producing bioethanol for over ten years, and we have already demonstrated production of cellulosic ethanol from waste materials. 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’ decarbonisation ambitions for many years to come,” added Mascolo.

With this initial investment in LanzaJet, Shell has the opportunity to make future investments for the construction of larger-scale production facilities. This phased investment approach, used by all of LanzaJet’s other investors, significantly affects the commercial deployment of SAF at a time “when reducing emissions, especially of aviation, is increasingly important” for the low-carbon future. 

The investment by Shell aligns with its strategy to become a net-zero emissions energy company by 2050. 

United Airlines, the United Parcel Service, and FedEx Corp. have also recently announced that they would be exploring SAF or alternative fuels, including natural gas, in their land and air operations. 

United, in particular, announced that it joined the Eco-Skies Alliance, part of which involves corporate customers having the option to pay extra for SAF.

Meanwhile, the DOE revealed two funding opportunities to ameliorate carbon emissions from cars, trucks and off-road vehicles. The funds, which total more than $162 million, would advance electrification of freight trucks as well as efforts to expand electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure as part of the SuperTruck initiatives.

In 2009, the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) began the SuperTruck initiatives with the hopes of advancing heavy-duty truck freight efficiency by 50%. In 2016, SuperTruck 2 was launched to double fuel efficiency for 18-wheeler trucks. The SuperTruck 3 Funding Opportunity Announcement offers $100 million in funding over four years to pioneer electrified medium- and heavy-duty trucks in order to lower emissions.

Transportation accounts for the largest share of U.S. GHGs. The EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office is offering $62.75 million for solutions in reducing emissions while increasing efficiency for on- and off-road vehicles. Some of these solutions include expansion of EV infrastructure and installments of EV charging stations in multi-unit housing, as well as the development of advanced engines and fuels.