News has come out of North Carolina that Honeywell UOP is deploying a new ethanol-to-jet fuel (ETJ) processing technology that allows manufacturers to convert corn, cellulosic or sugar-based ethanol into sustainable jet fuel. Depending on the type of ethanol feedstock used, jet fuel produced by Honeywell’s ethanol-to-jet fuel process can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% over the life cycle compared to petroleum-based jet fuel. And the company is talking about “lower CAPEX and OPEX” compared to other solutions and “higher profit margins” – claims that will get a lot of deserved attention and some scrutiny.
The background of technology
You can click here to learn more about Honeywell’s Ethanol to Jet technology. I’m not sure how much you’ll learn. We at the Digest long ago codenamed the company Fort Know for its ability to guard its catalytic secrets as well, perhaps, better than the US gold hoard. No Goldfingers in the UOP tent.
What can we tell you? It is our understanding that the refiner dehydrates the ethanol to ethylene, which then dimerizes and oligomerizes to a kerosene series fuel. Several companies use this approach — this boils down to the Battle Royale of the Catalysts, right? We understand that UOP has developed a variety of catalysts used in each key step of this process. So it may come down to whether you have a belief, shared by many, that UOP is the big cheese of the catalysts of the refining industry and that accordingly they will have the most efficient reactions leading to better yields or lower costs. There’s no reason to dispute that, or that UOP probably knows more about refineries than anyone else. So they will be a formidable competitor, especially when it comes to refinery conversions.
Greenfields – well, that might be another story. Many variables that are not strictly related to superior technology.
Two claims related to lower costs and faster construction
We saw this in the Honeywell manual: “SAF plants using Honeywell technology can be modulated off site allowing for lower installation costs and faster, less labor-intensive installation compared to on-site construction. By using Honeywell’s ETJ technology and an integrated, modular construction approach, manufacturers can build new SAF capacity more than a year faster than is possible with traditional construction approaches.
So, modular? Yes, they are modular and this can provide benefits, especially in locations where oil refining assets are not traditionally built.
Additionally, Honeywell claims, “Oil refiners and transportation fuel manufacturers can also benefit from Honeywell’s ETJ design, which is created for the purpose to enable the conversion of current or unused facilities into SAF production plants, potentially maximum utilization of outgoing sites for the production of SAF to meet the growing market demand.’
The bottom row
OUP, OUP and away. Is it a bird, a plane? No, it’s another jumping-tall-building-on-a-single technology from UOP that we don’t have much hard data on. Everyone’s question will be the traditional one. Is it better than anything else out there? As I think Bertolt Brecht put it in The Threepenny Opera, it comes first NDAthen comes Answers.
After all, how much do we really know about Superman’s characteristics? I mean he’s faster than a speeding bullet, exactly how much faster can you guess right? So we’d certainly like to know more, but we’ve long since learned to live by the industry’s penchant for secrecy without actually getting sick. We recommend you check it out, faster than you can say “Clark Kent.”
That made one thing clear to us, and that was why Honeywell rejected former CEO John Pierce from becoming LanzaTech’s board chairman, citing non-compete issues that puzzled us at the time, since Honeywell was nowhere near the ethanol business or renewable chemicals. Ah, right.
Three items to mention.
1. These numbers of PG. Pay as much attention as you can to the greenhouse gas numbers. After all, SAF is a carbon mitigation strategy whose value is more in the reduction of carbon emissions, for now, than in the fuel. So is it 80 percent, sometimes, almost all the time, or does it use raw material harvested from the misty peaks of Neptune? We will see.
2. RIN. Right now, you make two gallons of ethanol, you get two D6 RINs, most of the time. If you were to convert those two gallons to one gallon of SAF, you would get one RIN (for the SAF), two (for the ethanol), or three (for both). We suspect the odds of getting three are nil. But you might be able to claim both and not end up with one. This will be vital – lest you run afoul of NLACM, the natural law of alternative commodity markets.
3. Oil people love UOP. If we had to guess, we’d guess that UOP will get more calls in the near term from oil refiners than ethanol producers.
About that Old Grand Switcheroo
In 2021, the Biden administration announced its Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Grand Challenge for the US aviation fuel supply sector to produce at least three billion gallons of SAF annually by 2030 and reduce aviation emissions by 20% , with the ultimate goal of meeting 100% of US aviation fuel demand with SAF by 2050. Also in 2021, the European Council launched its Fit for 55 package, which aims to increase the share of sustainable fuels on airports in the EU from a minimum of 2% in 2025 to at least 63% by 2050. These and other incentives, including the Inflation Reduction Act, are accelerating the need for alternative feedstocks for SAF to meet demand.
“Honeywell pioneered the production of SAF with its Ecofining technology, and our new ethanol-to-jet fuel process builds on this original innovation to support the global aviation sector’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet production targets of SAF with an abundant feedstock like ethanol,” said Barry Glickman, vice president and general manager, Honeywell Sustainable Technology Solutions. “Honeywell’s ethanol-to-jet process, when used on its own or when combined with Honeywell’s carbon capture technology, is now poised to provide a path to a lower carbon intensity SAF.”