US push for eco-friendly jet fuel hindered by CO2 pipeline opposition



The US effort to develop sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using ethanol could be hampered by growing opposition to proposed pipelines meant to lower the biofuel’s greenhouse gas emissions. These pipelines would capture carbon dioxide from ethanol plants and transport it to other states for storage. The Biden administration has committed to producing 3 billion gallons of SAF annually by 2030 and 35 billion gallons by 2050, but public resistance has already led to the cancellation of one proposed pipeline and permitting setbacks for two others.

US Sustainable Aviation Fuel Development Threatened by Pipeline Opposition

The US’s sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) development, which utilizes ethanol, could be hampered due to growing opposition against proposed pipelines. These pipelines would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol plants by capturing carbon dioxide and storing it in other states. The future growth of US biofuel producers like POET, Valero (VLO.N) and others, who have been counting on these proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) pipeline projects, is now in question.

These pipelines are crucial to lower the climate impact of ethanol and make it a viable feedstock for SAF under the US Inflation Reduction Act. The Biden administration aims to produce 3 billion gallons of SAF annually by 2030 and 35 billion gallons by 2050. This plan is intended to decarbonize the aviation industry while supporting the ethanol sector and corn farmers who supply it.

However, residents along the proposed pipeline routes have raised concerns about potential leaks and land seizures to build the projects. Last month, Navigator CO2 Ventures cancelled its proposed pipeline, while two others by Summit Carbon Solutions and Wolf Carbon Solutions are facing permit issues and public resistance.

“Without carbon capture and storage, conventional ethanol does not have a pathway into SAF under today’s policies,” said Homer Bhullar, vice president at biofuel producer Valero Energy. Valero was an investor in the cancelled Navigator project.

The powerful US corn industry and ethanol producers hope that airline fuel production will boost sales as the traditional gasoline additive market diminishes due to the rise of electric vehicles and improved fuel efficiency. Biden’s administration has offered a $1.25 per gallon tax credit for SAF producers who can demonstrate their fuel has 50% lower emissions than conventional jet fuel.

Currently, using ethanol for SAF only reduces emissions by 15%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Ethanol is expected to contribute around 10% to the 2030 SAF target. However, without ethanol, a shortage of SAF is likely, according to Barry Glickman, a vice president at Honeywell (HON.O), an investor in some US biofuel plants.

If these pipeline projects fail, it would be a significant blow to the industry’s climate goals, according to Nikita Pavlenko, fuels team lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation. To reduce ethanol’s carbon intensity, producers must use renewable energy at ethanol plants or use climate-friendly farming practices for growing corn. The industry is also urging federal regulators to use a different climate model to assess SAF emissions. A response from the Biden administration is expected by year end.

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