This company wants to make air transport sustainable


By Clare Duffy, CNN Business Video by John General, CNN Business

In 2019, Air Company caused a stir by launching vodka derived from reclaimed carbon, with the aim of reducing the amount of harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Now, the Brooklyn-based startup has started using the same process to make jet fuel.

Air Company’s sustainable aviation fuel, which was recently tested by the U.S. Air Force, could ultimately help the airline industry reach its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Currently, l he airline industry accounts for approximately 3% of total global carbon emissions each year. , and relies primarily on traditional fossil fuels whose production requires various forms of environmental disturbance.

Already, some of the world’s largest airlines are buying into Air Company’s vision. The company announced last month that Jet Blue and Virgin Atlantic, along with start-up Boom Supersonic, had agreed to buy millions of gallons of its fuel over the coming years. Jet Blue Ventures, the airline’s investment arm, also invested directly in Air Company’s $30 million Series A funding round earlier this year.

“The way we think about what the company is doing is trying to solve humanity’s toughest problems,” Air Company co-founder and CEO Gregory Constantine told CNN in an interview last month. . “For us, climate change is the biggest challenge we face as a humanity to date…so if we can work on technologies that take what was once seen as a problem and turn it into a solution, then that’s a huge win.”

A number of sustainable aviation fuel producers have sprung up in recent years, including a major Finnish producer called Neste, many of which use ingredients such as vegetable matter and cooking oil. But Air Company’s production process begins with removing harmful carbon emissions from the air.

The company harvests carbon first, primarily from industrial environments such as biofuel production facilities. It then takes water, separates the hydrogen from the oxygen, and mixes the captured carbon with the hydrogen and a proprietary blend of other compounds, according to Air Company CTO Stafford Sheehan. It then distills this solution using what looks like a larger version of, say, a whiskey distillation system. End products are ethyl alcohol, which is used to make the company’s vodka and other products such as perfume, and paraffin, which forms the basis of its jet fuel.

In some ways, Sheehan said, the process mimics how plants work: It takes in carbon, and other than the end products, the only other release is oxygen. And the company says its tests have indicated that planes should be able to fly using its fuel without mixing it with fossil fuels or modifying their engines.

By the time a plane has flown on Air Company fuel, it will have released the same amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as was captured to make the fuel, meaning the whole process is carbon neutral. , Sheehan said. The company uses renewable energy sources such as solar energy to power its production plant.

Air Company still has work to do until its carbon-derived fuel is ready for widespread use on commercial flights. It needs more testing and it needs to increase its manufacturing footprint. Sheehan said the company’s next production facility is already underway and will be about 100 times larger than its Brooklyn test facility, which is likely the size of a two-bedroom New York apartment.

The company will also have to reduce the cost of its fuel, which is currently more expensive than traditional jet fuels, although the company declined to provide details on how much. Air Company said “consumers will not feel the impact of this change”, and added that the cost reduction will be achieved in part “through a range of government incentives available to fuel producers generating sustainable alternatives”.

Constantine said the company plans to first test its fuel on a commercial aircraft next year and expects its fuel to be used on its first commercial passenger flight by 2024.

Still, Air Company hopes its efforts could eventually disrupt the aviation industry for the better, just as it is working to do with its consumer goods.

“Aviation has been part of the goal from the start,” he said. “However, to get to these, you know, big industrial markets like aviation fuel, which have traditionally been known as the hottest industrial industries to decarbonize, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of efforts. “

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