A Digest exclusive Q&A with Bryan Stonehouse, Head of Aviation Sustainability & Risk, Shell Aviation

November 1, 2021 |

From SAF size and scale, Shell’s plans for scaling up, fuel use and blends and more, check out this Digest exclusive Q&A with Bryan Stonehouse, Head of Aviation Sustainability & Risk at Shell Aviation.

Q: What is the current size and scale of SAF across the industry?

Stonehouse: Despite the progress that has been made, today’s commercial production is only a fraction of total jet fuel consumption, and it remains costly compared to conventional jet fuel. In order to increase the supply of SAF, the industry needs to collaborate to rapidly scale up the production of SAF volumes.

To give a sense of the scale of the task, in 2019, fewer than 200,000 metric tonnes of SAF were produced globally, amounting to less than 0.1% of the roughly 300 million tonnes of jet fuel used by commercial airlines.[1] If all SAF projects that have been publicly announced are completed, capacity will scale to at least 4 million metric tonnes in the next few years, reaching volumes just over 1% of expected global jet fuel demand in 2030.[2]

Q: If scale is currently a problem, how does Shell Aviation plan to increase it over the coming decades?

Stonehouse: Shell Aviation is working to collaborate, to supply and to invest, all with the aspiration of offering SAF as a significant part of our fuels’ portfolio. To this end, Shell recently announced its ambition to produce around 2 million tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel a year, increasing SAF sales to represent 10% of global aviation fuel customer purchases by 2030.

Our focus is on making investments for the long-term, from world-scale production facilities through to emerging technologies. This includes taking bold actions to transform our existing refinery assets, as we are doing at Shell’s Energy and Chemicals Park Rotterdam, formerly known as the Pernis refinery. Shell recently announced a final investment decision to develop the site into one of the biggest biofuels facilities in Europe. Expected to start production in 2024, SAF could make up more than half of the 820,000-tonnes-a-year capacity, meaning the facility will be among the biggest in Europe to produce SAF made from waste.

Alongside this we are also investing to accelerate the use of a range of technology pathways, including 2nd and 3rd generation SAF production technologies, helping to progress them towards commercial scale. One example of this would be our investment earlier this year in LanzaJet, which is developing SAF through an ATJ process. In addition, we are also working on future and advanced production technologies, such as through our investment in developing and testing a cutting-edge waste to fuel technology called iH2 at the Technology Centre in Bangalore. The technology uses agricultural residues and other wastes to produce fuels for transport.

Q: Where are these fuels used?

Stonehouse: Every party that benefits from flight can play a role in reducing emissions and there are many airlines – from commercial to cargo – and airports around the world that are taking positive steps when it comes to using SAF.

Aside from its potential to reduce emissions, one of the most beneficial aspects of SAF is it is a ‘drop in’ solution – it is fully Jet A/A-1 compliant and has the same characteristics and specifications as conventional fossil jet fuel. It can be supplied through existing airport refuelling infrastructure and can be used by airlines without requiring technical modification to their current fleets.

Q: What different methods exist for making SAF?

Stonehouse: Multiple SAF production pathways already exist or are in the process of being developed, and these conversion technologies can transform a wide range of biomass and waste feedstocks into aviation fuel.

The most mature technology for producing SAF is the Hydro-Processed Esters & Fatty Acids (HEFA) pathway, which typically uses waste oil and inedible fats as the feedstock. In addition, a number of technologies are being developed which show great potential to support scaled up production over the next 10 years such as Gasification and Fischer-Tropsch (F-T), Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ), and synthetic fuels from industrial emissions

Given technology readiness, production from other more novel conversion pathways, including power-to-liquids pathways using CO2 sourced from direct air capture, are likely to remain limited in this decade, but could play a major role further down the line.

Q: When can the fuel be used on its own, rather than in a blend with conventional kerosene?

Stonehouse: SAF is currently only approved when it is blended at no more than 50% with conventional jet fuel. In late 2020, Shell and Rolls-Royce worked together to conduct 100% SAF tests in two engines – a Trent 1000-based demonstrator in Derby, UK, and a Pearl 700 Business Aviation engine in Dahlewitz, Germany, the former with a lean-burn combustor and the latter with a rich-burn combustor.

The main aim of the tests was to focus on the operability of the engines in order to enhance our technical understanding of the benefits of running on 100% SAF compared to Jet-A1. The results were similarly positive across both engines which ran for a combined total of 20 hours.

The results could be significant for how SAF could be used by the industry in commercial operations. They could lay the groundwork for moving such fuels towards certification, removing barriers to entry by increasing the flexibility of introducing sustainable fuels within existing supply chains.

And that’s the word from Bryan Stonehouse, Head of Aviation Sustainability & Risk at Shell Aviation. Thank you Bryan!

[1] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_CST_Policy_European_Commission_SAF_2020.pdf

[2] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_CST_Policy_European_Commission_SAF_2020.pdf

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