Is it possible to produce jet fuel from the tree tops, bark, branches and stumps that the forestry industry does not take advantage of? The answer is yes – not only is it possible, it also has great commercial potential. This is shown by a feasibility study conducted by RISE on behalf of the airline KLM, the forest owners’ association Södra and several other key players.
Major airlines are under a lot of pressure to reduce their climate impact in the coming years. In May, ministers from six EU member states called for minimum limits to be set concerning the admixture of sustainable bio jetfuels. In Sweden, there is draft legislation for a biofuel allowance intended to cut 27 per cent of carbon emissions from aviation by 2030.
The search for alternative fuels to make aviation more environmentally friendly has been going on for a long time; including electricity (batteries), hydrogen, electrofuels and biofuels.
– “Of these, only biofuels and electrofuels can provide major contributions towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the short and medium-term,” says Erik Furusjö, Senior Researcher at RISE.
– “For countries like Sweden that have good access to sustainable biological raw materials, it is much more cost-effective to invest in the production of biofuels. Electrofuels, which are made from carbon dioxide and electricity, are currently considerably more expensive to produce.
It is against this background that the Dutch airline KLM, which operates direct flights between Amsterdam and Växjö, identified common interests with several other parties and decided to look into the possibilities of starting to produce jet fuel in Småland. The other parties involved have included Småland Airport, Södra (Sweden’s largest forest owners’ association), Växjö Energi, the Municipality of Växjö, SkyNRG (Dutch biojet fuel broker) and Luleå University of Technology – the complete value chain from forestry and energy to airports and airlines.
Seven different technologies screened
– “We screened seven potential technologies and chose the use of leftovers from forestry and the forestry industry being gasified at 700-800 degrees. During the feasibility study, we selected two locations that would be suitable for the development of such a facility: Södra’s pulp mill in Mörrum and VEAB’s district heating plant in Växjö. According to our feasibility study, the production of bio-jetfuel would be both energy and cost-effective at these locations. Production could start in just 5-6 years, thanks to high technological maturity and the fact that existing plants can be used extensively without competing with other production on site,” says Erik Furusjö.
A bio-jetfuel plant using similar technology is currently in development in Oregon, USA. But there are none in Europe. Yet.
There is an opportunity here to be first
It’s fully possible to get started
The feasibility study has presented the broad outlines for production and shown that it is fully possible to get started. Before a commercial decision can be made concerning the start of production, more detailed engineering work will be required to calculate specific costs and review the details of the exact location for the plant.
Erik Furusjö believes that the plans will come to fruition:
– “Yes, there is an opportunity here to be first and for Sweden to take the lead within this area. In the short-term, there are only a limited number of technologies that can be used to produce bio-jetfuels, since certification is required for reasons of safety”.
The large amount of forestry-based raw materials available in Sweden also constitutes a major competitive advantage.
– “The raw materials that dominate the production of bio-jetfuels globally today – cooking oils and other fatty waste – are limited and cannot meet growing demand in the wake of tougher regulations. Prices will therefore skyrocket. Our feasibility study shows that bio-jetfuel from forestry leftovers has great potential for becoming a commercially strong alternative and that there is great production potential. Just one plant of the type we looked at would be able to meet a third of the demand for Sweden’s domestic flights. And with zero increase in the logging of forests”.