Tulsa-based Emerging Fuels Technology recently worked with a California company and the U.S. Air Force to make a breakthrough jet fuel.
Made from carbon dioxide electrolysis, the fossil-free product demonstrates a first-of-its-kind, scalable and energy-efficient way to produce de-fossilized jet fuel from carbon dioxide.
Supported via funding from the Air Force and made in partnership with the Berkeley, California-based company Twelve, the fuel is globally applicable for both commercial and military aviation.
“In today’s world, everybody’s looking for a way to make fuel that doesn’t put CO2 in the atmosphere,” said Kenneth Agee, president of EFT. “When you burn this fuel, you put CO2 in the atmosphere, but it’s roughly equivalent to what you took out. That’s called carbon-neutral.
“Theoretically, you could say that if we did a lot of this, instead of CO2 always growing the atmosphere, it would stabilize. They call this sustainable aviation fuel. We need a backup plan. We need another alternative source to crude oil. Everybody’s wanting to have sources that get us carbon-neutral.”
The big threat from additional CO2 is the greenhouse effect. As a greenhouse gas, excessive CO2 creates a cover that traps the sun’s heat energy in the atmospheric bubble, warming the planet and the oceans. An increase in carbon dioxide can affect the Earth’s climate by causing changes in weather patterns.
Global aviation produces 1.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year and is among the hardest-to-mitigate sectors because it is technically unfeasible to electrify long-haul planes at scale due to power density challenges. The fossil-free fuel offers a drop-in replacement for petrochemical-based alternatives without any changes to existing plane design or commercial regulations.
“The world consumption of crude oil just keeps going up,” Agee said. “We need a sustainable solution long-term. If that sustainable solution also gives us a carbon balance, it solves the climate problem, as well. There are a lot of different ways to do this.”
EFT, which was established in late 2007, also is working on a project with a company called Red Rock Biofuels, with an under-construction Oregon plant that would be the first one in the world capable of using waste woody biomass as feedstock to make renewable jet and diesel fuels.
Woody biomass comprises residues of the wood processing industry, post-consumer woody waste materials and agricultural residues.
“We’ve got an offering under way to raise the money for this company (EFT) to be able to build its own plants, primarily focused on using biogases or feedstock, but the back-end technology is all the same,” said Kenneth’s brother Mark Agee, vice president of development for EFT. “That’s what puts us in the unique position of we’re going to be in on a lot of these projects.
“All the airlines are trying to make deals with somebody who can provide them with a renewable fuel.”
While sustainable jet fuels are considerably more expensive to manufacture, the costs can be offset by government subsidies, the Agees said.
EFT is hoping to build hundreds of plants.
“The plants for biogas are much smaller,” Mark Agee said. “A typical landfill in the United States can’t generate enough gas for a thousand-barrel-a-day plant. But it can generate enough gas for about a 60-barrel-a-day plant. There are over 3,000 landfills in the United States. That’s just one example.”
Anaerobic digesters at dairies and at pork facilities make biogas, as do wastewater treatment facilities, he said. Methane is 28 times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, Mark Agee said.
“So grabbing that methane and turning it into something useful, you can actually end up what they call a carbon-negative fuel,” he said.