Masdar-led consortium to produce sustainable aviation fuel from methanol

Demand for SAF is set to increase as airlines seek net-zero transition by 2050

Etihad Airways' net-zero flight for last year's Cop27 was operated on its Boeing 787 Greenliner. Photo: Etihad
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A consortium led by Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company Masdar plans to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from methanol.

The consortium, which also includes France’s TotalEnergies and Siemens Energy, is currently focused on SAF from green hydrogen, but is “actively working” with licensors to certify a new production pathway for aviation fuel from methanol, the companies said in a statement on Wednesday.

Methanol, primarily used to produce chemicals such as acetic acid and formaldehyde, is also a clean-burning fuel that produces fewer smog-causing emissions.

SAF, considered by the aviation industry as the most significant contributor to reaching the net zero goal, requires a major boost in production from the current minuscule levels.

In 2021, airlines globally pledged net-zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050 — bringing the air transport industry in line with the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Airlines are facing pressure from environmental groups to lower their carbon footprint and make operations greener after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week, Masdar, Siemens Energy and TotalEnergies signed an agreement to develop a demonstrator plant project in Masdar City.

“The demonstrator plant will help to establish the commercial viability of green hydrogen as an essential decarbonised fuel of the future and will support Abu Dhabi’s development as a green hydrogen hub,” Mohamed Al Ramahi, chief executive of Masdar, said in an earlier statement.

“While the hydrogen market is still at a comparatively early stage, we firmly believe that by working together with international partners on projects such as this, we can help the hydrogen market develop its full potential and it will really take off in the years to come.”

The global aviation industry could use 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the world's projected hydrogen supply of 600 million tonnes by 2050 for the production of SAFs and to power new aircraft, according to airline trade association the International Air Transport Association.

Aviation is projected to use about 100 megatonnes — 100 million tonnes — of hydrogen for the production of SAF and 20 megatonnes for hydrogen-powered aircraft, if they enter into service by 2035.

Last year, Etihad Airways operated a net-zero emissions flight from Dulles International Airport in Washington to Abu Dhabi, via the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, to carry delegates to Egypt's Cop27 climate change conference.

It joined up with net-zero services provider World Energy to operate the flight powered entirely by SAF through a book-and-claim system.

Updated: February 06, 2023, 9:20 AM