10:53 AM 27th November 2020
Humberside Gets The Green Light For Environmentally Friendly Project
Imagine waste bring turned into aviation fuel. Whilst that might seem the stuff that dreams are made of, it looks to become a reality and not just thin air.
The World Economic Forum has backed sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as the most promising decarbonation policy for aviation, delighting the developers of a multi million pound refinery on the Humber.
Velocys is behind the first commercial scale SAF production facility, with high profile backers including British Airways and consented planning for a site at Stallingborough, between Grimsby and Immingham.
Altalto will be the first waste-to-jet-fuel facility of its kind in the UK, taking hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste per year, which would otherwise have gone to landfill or incineration to produce SAF that considerably reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and exhaust pollutants from commercial aviation.
I spoke to Dr Neville Hargreaves, Velocys Vice President, Waste to Fuels, who leads on the Altalto project.
How does the process work?
The waste is sorted to remove items such as metal and glass for recycling, then shredded and dried. It’s then heated up (but crucially not burnt), so that the carbon and hydrogen in the fuel are released in the form of a gas, known in the industry as syngas. The syngas is washed in order to remove contaminants. Then using Velocys’ special reactor and catalyst we convert the syngas into liquid hydrocarbons – the building blocks of the fuel. Finally, the hydrocarbons undergo a process known as hydrocracking (in simple terms, cracking big molecules into smaller ones) which produces the fuel itself.
When is the new production site at Immingham going to be built?
Getting planning permission was a big milestone. We have been very pleased with all the community support to date, including from the local council, which has been fantastic. What we need to do now is raise the next stage of finance. The development so far has been financed by a small group of companies but now we have actually got to finance the construction of the plant, then build and commission it. If all goes well, we would plan to be in operation by 2025.
You appear to have some good partners on board such as Shell and British Airways?
Yes we have - Shell and British Airways have funded the development of the project so far and about 8 million pounds has gone into it. It’s a staged process, so now we have got to undertake another process for the funding of the construction and we expect to get other investors on board to do that. The good thing is that many investors are looking at projects like this with a good environmental impact that reduce greenhouse emissions, so we are optimistic that we can offer an attractive proposition to them.
Does it help that the current Government has Green credentials?
It does, this is really critical from our point of view because this type of project only works with support from Government. There are still some policies which we need to get into place, but I think it is great to see the Ten Point Plan. The Prime Minister also mentioned synthetic fuels in his article for the Financial Times on the topic and the Government are committing to a mandate for sustainable aviation fuels, which is an important part of the business model for our project.
Are Velocys unique undertaking this type of project?
There is one project under construction in the United States that will be doing something similar, but we hope to be the first in Europe and fill the gap from there.
Will it bring a lot of jobs to the area?
One of the reasons why we went to Immingham, was that there is a skilled workforce with people who have worked in the chemical industry and we want those skills to operate what is going to be quite a complex plant so yes, it will be a very good thing for the area.
Velocys is on the Jet Zero Council, has that helped a lot?
Definitely as it brings together the Government, industry and other interested parties. We are very pleased to be represented on there, as it is a key part of the solution to making the whole industry sustainable.
Can you see a point when all planes would run on this type of fuel?
If we can get the facility producing fuel by 2025, we should be able to fuel at least 1,000 transatlantic flights a year. Although that might be a small fraction of the total global demand, it really is a meaningful start. And yes, we do see a realistic path to all planes running on sustainable fuel.
It is good for Britain too to be a leader here and for the Humber region
It is - once we have demonstrated it in a full commercial plant in Immingham we can export the technology worldwide, the UK imports a lot of jet fuel so being able to make some sustainable jet fuel itself is important to the country. There has been a recent study by the industry group Sustainable Aviation that has looked at a number of clusters around the country where we could build a series of plants, but this one in the Humber region is the key starting point.
Where do you think the company will be in 5 years time?
Well, in 5 years I hope that Altalto will be making fuel and Velocys, which is the technology company that is behind it, hope to be licensing our technology all over the world to plants in other countries.
There is huge potential there, wouldn’t you agree?
There is, everyone seems to acknowledge that we can’t stop solving the long term problems of climate change just because of Covid 19 and everyone I have spoken to in the industry is keen to continue the work on sustainable aviation fuel. This really is the essential thing that the industry can do to reduce its carbon impact. I am always careful about counting my chickens, especially where Government is involved, but I think it really is a positive prospect.
Velocys’ technology enables sustainable fuels made from waste materials for aviation and heavy goods transport to help achieve net zero emissions and improve air quality.