Bill Gates is backing a startup turning alcohol into jet fuel

Breakthrough Energy, an investment firm founded in 2015 by Bill Gates, announced that its first funding for Project Catalyst will go to LanzaJet’s Freedom Pines Fuels (SAF) sustainable aviation fuel facility in Soperton, Georgia, in the form of a grant of $50 million. Breakthrough Energy Catalyst is a unique program that brings together corporate and philanthropic organizations to accelerate the deployment of essential technologies by funding key first-of-its-kind commercial-scale projects.

Scheduled to be operational in 2023, LanzaJet’s Freedom Pines Fuels project is the firm’s first commercial-scale SAF plant and will be the first in the world to produce alcohol-to-jet SAF, which will reduce emissions by at least 70% compared to with fossil fuel jet fuel. Once fully operational, this plant will play a critical role in scaling up SAF production and bringing sustainable fuels to market at a lower cost. The plant is expected to produce nine million gallons of SAF and one million gallons of renewable diesel per year, roughly doubling current U.S. SAF production. Construction of the plant will enable significant expansion of LanzaJet’s technology in the US and globally, with subsequent projects already in the planning stages in North America, Europe and Asia, which together will produce more than one billion gallons of SAF annually .

First-of-its-kind emerging technology projects often struggle to access cheap capital because they have high environmental premiums and often face unforeseen challenges and costs, especially in the current inflationary environment. By providing capital for these types of early commercial facilities, Catalyst funding can de-risk subsequent investments and accelerate the deployment of clean technologies. In this case, Freedom Pines Fuels’ Catalyst grant filled the funding gap and will allow the plant to maintain its current development schedule.

Importantly, the grant will also spur further innovation by SAF, helping to create a new market for scalable low-carbon ethanol from sustainable sources, setting expectations that the plant will transition to second-generation ethanol, including from feedstocks, waste-based, through its fifth year. This transition will complement the work LanzaJet is already doing to build SAF plants using second-generation ethanol in the UK and will develop strategic partnerships to accelerate the development of the advanced fuel, which currently has little market supply.

“Breakthrough Energy Catalyst is a new way for the private sector to accelerate the transition to clean energy by funding projects that will ensure that essential climate solutions reach the market in the time frame the world needs,” said Roddy Guidero, Executive Director, Breakthrough Energy & Managing Partner, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “LanzaJet’s new sustainable jet fuel plant can play a vital role in the decarbonisation of aviation while demonstrating how clean energy economy jobs and businesses can power communities.” We are grateful to Catalyst partners who understand that climate leadership means supporting technologies that will eliminate emissions and that solving our climate challenges will require nothing less than mobilizing the world’s economic engine to build a net-zero future netness.’

“LanzaJet is built on innovation, and we work every day with a sense of urgency to address our global climate challenge,” said Jimmy Samartzis, CEO of LanzaJet. “To maximize our impact and scale our technology to deliver significant quantities of sustainable aviation fuel around the world, partnerships are essential. We have a real opportunity on our doorstep to significantly scale up and deploy our technology globally, and we could not have built this plant as quickly or affordably without Breakthrough Energy’s catalyst grant, which has reduced our overall cost of capital and is critical importance in reducing emissions and accelerating the pace of introducing SAF to the world market.’

Aviation accounts for approximately 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions per year, and as an “input” fuel, sustainable aviation fuels offer an important way to rapidly decarbonize aviation with existing aircraft currently in use around the world. Produced from a variety of low-carbon, sustainable feedstocks such as agricultural waste, municipal solid waste, energy crops or carbon captured from industrial processes or the ambient air, SAF is a similar type of replacement for traditional jet fuel and is compatible with existing aircraft and infrastructure. SAF can dramatically reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to conventional fuel produced from crude oil, while significantly improving local air quality by reducing conventional air pollutants such as particulate matter.

Breakthrough Energy’s Catalyst grant joins previous supporters of LanzaJet’s Freedom Pines Fuels plant, which received funding from the US Department of Energy and the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, as well as investment from LanzaJet shareholders Mitsui & Co., Suncor Energy, LanzaTech, British Airways and Shell. The plant is being built at a unique moment of opportunity for SAF. The recently signed Inflation Reduction Act includes tax credits that will help jump start SAF production in the US and make clean jet fuels more price competitive. It also includes $297 million for a grant program dedicated to scaling up clean aviation technologies, including SAF.

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