Go SAF, Young Man: Go SAF, young one, and grow up with the country

April 26, 2022 |

Horace Greeley didn’t know anything about sustainable aviation fuel, and he may not have even authored the phrase, “Go West and grow up with the country.” But he did write, “Why insert this and not that? Why so much or A and so little of B?” I keep his instructions by my writing desk, it’s part of his Political Textbook for 1860, and it’s a useful question for the shift of economies from one set of raw materials to another. Why indeed so much of A and so little of B?

Hitherto the question has been, why so little SAF and so much fossil kerosene? Perhaps not long from now the question will be reversed. If the California-based Aemetis has anything to do with it, the question will be asked much sooner and not much later. They’ve been on an historic tear this April, and for oilcos hoping that SAF will not arrive in large quantities at the San Francisco International, as T. S Eliot once expressed it in The Waste Land, “April is the cruelest month.”

California is not a waste land, it remains a horn of plenty, but with plenty of production comes plenty of waste, it is the way of sophisticated Western economies. Now that sustainability is becoming part of the pricing equation, it is getting expensive not cheap to throw stuff away, and Aemetis has been scooping up contracts for California waste in large quantities because now there is money in it, and Aemetis plans to do well by doing good, which is the Eric McAfee method if you’ve become somewhat acquainted with that company’s CEO. 

Let me amend that. Aemetis likes to do very well by doing very good. I think that puts it better.

The waste they’ve been scooping up is the stuff that everyone else thought was so worthless they combusted it or otherwise dumped it in landfill or any other place they could stuff it. That’s the bioeconomy’s singular trick, isn’t it? Spotting the gold in the tailings, the diamond in the haystack.

So, almond tree waste, for one, dairy waste for another. One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Pudding, goes the saying, and pudding indeed is how we might describe the frothy returns that can come from uncovering technology that unlocks carbon-negative waste.

Aemetis, JetBlue ink 125 MG SAF deal

So we read with interest this week that Aemetis announced an offtake agreement with JetBlue, to be delivered over the 10 year term of the agreement. The value of the contract including incentives is approximately $530 million. The blended sustainable aviation fuel to be supplied under this agreement is 40% SAF and 60% Petroleum Jet A to meet international blending standards.

The sustainable aviation fuel is expected to be produced by the Aemetis renewable jet/diesel plant under development on a 125 acre former U.S. Army Ammunition production plant site in Riverbank, California. The blended sustainable aviation fuel is scheduled to begin deliveries to JetBlue in 2025. Powered by 100% renewable electricity, the Aemetis Carbon Zero production plant at the Riverbank plant site is designed to sequester CO2 from the production process using injection wells, significantly reducing the carbon intensity of the renewable fuel.

It wasn’t the only order of the season for Aemetis and its airline partners. At the end of last month, Aemetis announced an offtake agreement with Finnair for 17.5 million gallons of blended sustainable aviation fuel to be delivered over the 7 year term of the agreement. The value of the contract including incentives is approximately $70 million.

Sustainable aviation fuel provides significant environmental benefits compared to petroleum jet fuel, including a lower lifecycle carbon footprint and reduced contrails. The blended sustainable aviation fuel to be supplied under this agreement is 40% SAF and 60% Petroleum Jet A to meet international blending standards.

As we mentioned, there’s SAF made from orchard waste. Also, there’s biogas made from dairy waste. And there’s news from Planet Aemetis on that front too.

Aemetis to launch Phase 2 Biogas production 

But wait, there’s more. Earlier this week, the Aemetis Biogas subsidiary became ready for Phase 2 biogas production by completing construction of its 3rd dairy digester and successfully testing the 7-mile biogas pipeline section to be used by the next 5 dairy digesters in Phase 2 of the Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy Project.

Testing was recently completed for the $12 million dairy biogas-to-RNG upgrading and compression facility which is co-located at the Aemetis Advanced Fuels Keyes ethanol plant near Modesto, California and adjacent to the utility natural gas pipeline. The PG&E utility gas pipeline interconnection unit has been constructed and is now being tested by PG&E. The conversion of biogas to RNG and the injection of RNG into the PG&E pipeline is expected in early May 2022, once PG&E has completed testing.

When fully built out, the planned 60+ dairies in the estimated $380 million Aemetis biogas project are expected to capture more than 1.6 million MMBtu of dairy methane and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to an estimated 5 million metric tonnes of CO2 each year, equal to removing the CO2 emissions from more than 1 million cars per year.

The Bottom Line

Why West? The California Low Carbon Fuel Standard, that’s why. A fuel standard of equivalent value is in place in Oregon and British Columbia, almost finalized (and passed) in Washington state, and on the way (we hope) in New Mexico. The West has been leading in creating transformative fuel, standards that are actually re-shaping the fuels market in a carbon-positive manner and at prices that markets dictate, not governments. All good, and all part of the country growing up.

There were the days of the Stone Age when one found tools, food, shelter, storage and writing materials, and clothing from the objects lying around, or underground, or by preying on animals lower in the food chain. Then, came the agricultural revolution and people began to grow their own resources. With the Industrial Revolution, we began to manufacture resources on an industrial scale. With the computer revolution, we began to organize our recording and writing digitally instead of by chopping down trees to make paper. Now comes the Circular revolution and we are turning from a one-and-done culture into a culture of cycles, re-use, re-purpose, re-virginizing.

It’s all a part of humans growing up and seeing that fine country is country worth preserving, and technologies like SAF and RNG are showing us the way. So indeed, Go SAF, young one, and grow up with the country.

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