Shell plans to turn oil refinery into biorefinery producing SAFs

In the “first in a series of projects Shell is considering at its chemicals facilities along the Gulf Coast to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels,” the company is planning to repurpose a former oil refinery in Louisiana to build a $1.48 billion biorefinery, the Houston Chronicle reported last week.

The first phase of the low-carbon fuels facility “would include a renewable fuels unit that would produce renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from plant oils, animal fats and used cooking oils,” the Chronicle said.

A solution for the high fuel price issue

By increasing the supply of SAFs, facilities like the one planned by Shell can help hasten the transition to biofuels. According to Investment Monitor’s analysis published in July, triggering “the demand for SAF at scale and providing confidence to suppliers to further increase investment in production” could, in turn, help lower prices for SAFs.

Use of SAFs is important because these fuels could lower emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuel, and its rise is seen “as a significant development towards decarbonizing the aviation industry, which is responsible for approximately 2.5% of global carbon emissions,” the analysis pointed out.

As we previously reported, “commercial aviation in the United States uses around 10% of all transportation energy and accounts for 2% of the nation’s carbon emissions.”

Shell is also helping build demand for SAFs by partnering with Accenture and American Express Global Business Travel through Avelia, a blockchain solution that allows airlines and their customers to keep track of exactly how much of their flying is done with SAFs.

Per its website, Avelia “connects airlines and businesses globally, to share the environmental benefits of SAF and aims to generate the scale of demand necessary to help the sector transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Building acceptance and a strong supply chain for SAF

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s (BIO) member Gevo is among the companies that have been helping build acceptance and a strong supply chain for SAFs by increasing the number of airline flights using the fuel.

As Bio.News previously reported, Gevo gave a significant push to sustainable aviation fuel with the recently signed deals with America Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Air Lingus

These deals are part of the plan to sell up to 200 million gallons of SAF per year to 14 airlines in the oneworld global alliance and the “delivery of the fuel is expected to commence in 2027, for a five year-term”.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is also advancing the effort with a government-wide strategy to scale up “new technologies to manufacture SAFs” throughout the U.S. aircraft industry -something biotech has been working on for a while.

The multi-agency SAF Grand Challenge seeks to scale up SAFs production to 3 billion gallons per year by 2030 and to 35 billion gallons per year by 2050 through initiatives in areas like promoting innovation and supply chain development.

“The SAF Grand Challenge is the result of DOE, DOT, and USDA launching a government-wide Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will attempt to reduce the cost, enhance sustainability, and expand the production and use of SAF while achieving a minimum of a 50% reduction in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fuel, and meeting a goal of supplying sufficient SAF to meet 100% of aviation fuel demand by 2050,” according to an announcement from the DOE.

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