Minneapolis -- According to Todd Becker, the president and CEO of Green Plains Inc., sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) makers will heavily rely on corn-based alcohol as a feedstock in order to meet the ambitious production targets set by the Biden administration. Becker made this statement during his keynote presentation at the first annual North American SAF Conference & Expo. He emphasized that alcohol is crucial in achieving the administration's goals of producing three billion gallons of SAF by 2030 and reaching 100% SAF usage by 2050.
Becker pointed out that ethanol producers have a distinct advantage due to the existing large supply of alcohol readily available for SAF production. While the U.S. soy protein industry also contributes to the feedstock supply, it is relatively limited compared to what can be produced with ethanol.
During the conference, other speakers echoed the importance of the alcohol-to-jet production pathway and called for policymakers to refine policies that incentivize ethanol producers and farmers in their efforts to reduce the carbon intensity of their products.
For several months, stakeholders in the biofuels industry have been urging the U.S. Treasury to use the Department of Energy's lifecycle carbon assessment (LCA) model when evaluating fuels for the minimum $1.25/gal SAF tax credit. They have also stressed the need to update this model. The government has indicated that it will rely on either the International Civil Aviation Organization's LCA model or a similar methodology for administering the tax credit scheme.
Jennifer Aurandt-Pilgrim, director of innovation and market development for Marquis Energy, an Illinois-based ethanol producer, expressed the importance of using the most up-to-date science and information in both models. She emphasized that these models represent scientific data generated in laboratories and called for the use of accurate data to develop and implement a model that can be universally adopted.
Decarbonizing Aviation Fuel: The Potential and Challenges
ICAO's model for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has raised concerns among experts. It may restrict the use of certain vegetable oils and even corn-based ethanol, limiting the potential of SAF production. This could hinder the growth of the industry and confine it to a niche market.
The involvement of farmers is crucial in driving the development of SAF, according to Neal Jakel from Fluid Quip Technologies. He emphasizes the need to support farmers in identifying the right pathways and opportunities for producing SAF.
However, Jakel expresses apprehension about the alcohol-to-SAF technology landscape. He warns against falling into the same trap that plagued the ethanol industry in the past, where numerous technology providers offered unproven solutions. It is essential to thoroughly vet technologies to avoid failures and ensure a successful rollout of SAF.
The ethanol industry finds itself at a crossroads, with an opportunity to redefine its role. Unlike in the past, where distribution was a significant hurdle, ethanol producers now have the airlines urging them to produce decarbonized fuel. The airlines' commitment to purchasing SAF creates a favorable environment, provided that the right policies and economics are in place.
The demand for decarbonizing aviation fuel is clear, and the industry has a chance to seize this moment. However, challenges remain, and careful consideration of technologies and policies is crucial for success.
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