Waste-to-jet-fuel projects get multi-million-pound funding boost from UK Government

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The Department confirmed the allocation of this tranche of funding from the Advanced Fuels Fund today (22 December). The Fund itself was first created this July, with a commitment of up to £165m to be allocated by the end of March 2025. It exists to support the UK Government’s ambition for the nation to host at least five commercial-scale sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) projects under construction or in operation by 2025.

In total, around £82.2m of grant funding has been proposed today. This will be shared amongst five projects, including three that are seeking to use non-recyclable household waste as the feedstock for their fuels.

One of these projects is Velcoys’s waste-to-fuel project set for Immingham in Lincolnshire. The project was first announced in 2018 and experienced a setback in 2021 when Shell ended its support, but has had continued support from other sources including the DfT and British Airways. Velocys now expects the plant to enter operations in 2028 and to produce 87.4kt of SAF each year.

The other waste-derived SAF projects securing DfT funding today are alfanar Energy Ltd’s project at the Industrial Cluster in Teesside, and Fulcrum BioEnergy Ltd’s project in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. The former is set to become operational in 2028 and the latter in 2027. The projects have respective production capacities, annually, of 86.6kt of SAF and 83.7kt of SAF.

The other projects securing DfT funding today are led by Lanzatech and Velcoys respectively.

Lanzatech is working in Port Talbot, South Wales, on a commercial-scale plant capable of converting off gases from the region’s steel mills into ethanol. This ethanol can then be converted into jet fuel. Lanzatech wants the plant, called Project Dragon, to come online in 2026. It has stated a full operational capacity of 79kt per year of fuel.

Velocys is yet to confirm a location for its project that aspires to convert captured carbon into SAF. This will be a smaller plant and an earlier stage technology, with the DfT providing a smaller share of around £2.5m. Velocys wants to use carbon captured from a gas-fired electricity generation plant, plus green hydrogen, to manufacture fuel here. It foresees a 2029 opening date and a full operational capacity of 16.4kt of fuel production per year.

“It’s exactly this kind of innovation that will help us create thousands of green jobs across the country and slash our carbon emissions,” said Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

State of SAF play

The UK Government is betting big on SAF, alongside improvements in efficiency, to decarbonise the aviation sector in line with its long-term ‘Jet-Zero’ commitments. Its headline pledges are net-zero emissions for airport operations and domestic flights by 2040 and net-zero international flights by 2050. Emissions from UK aviation should not exceed 2019 levels going forward.

This is despite the fact that, globally, less than 0.1% of aviation fuel used globally in 2021 was derived from waste feedstocks or renewable sources, according to the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance.

To help scale SAF production, the UK Government has set a SAF mandate for fuel suppliers as well as supporting the developers of specific SAF manufacturing projects. Suppliers will need to reach at least 10% SAF use by 2030, and interim carbon intensity requirements will be phased in from 2025.

There are concerns about whether this target is realistic. The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) most optimistic case scenario involves SAFs accounting for 7% of UK aviation fuel by 2030. The Committee has urged policymakers to do more to cap airport expansion and to support early-stage technologies like electric planes of a commercial scale.

The Government has disagreed with this approach and said it does not want to “clip the sector’s wings”. Once again, today, Harper has repeated the Conservative Party’s line on “guilt-free flying”.

The UK has now also formally joined the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) assistance, capacity building and training programme for SAF. Through this programme, it will learn about progress towards scaling SAF in other nations, and seek to map out how it can support other countries in developing their own SAF industries.

In related news…

The DfT seems to be making a batch of announcements pertaining to the decarbonisation of aviation ahead of Christmas.

It has, in addition to the Advanced Fuels Fund grants, confirmed a £1.2m extension to the Zero Emission Flight Infrastructure project (ZEFI), which launched last year with an initial budget of £3m. The ZEFI exists to support key airport infrastructure, including hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

These announcements come less than a week after the Department announced that Virgin Atlantic had won its competition to deliver the first transatlantic flight powered solely by SAF next year. This initiative was first announced in May.

International regulations currently limit the level of SAF in blends to 50% as a maximum. Virgin Atlantic and the DfT will work with the Civil Aviation Authority to gain sign-off for this innovative flight, therefore. The flight will be from Heathrow airport to John F Kennedy Airport in New York. It will be made by a Boeing 787 aircraft fitted with Rolls-Royce’s Trent 100 engines.

The DfT claims that this flight will be net-zero. The SAF used will, it claims, have a lifecycle emissions footprint around 70% lower than that associated with kerosene. Carbon offsetting will be used to address the residual emissions.

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