Inside a nondescript building in an industrial park on the outskirts of Calgary, one company is hoping its unique biofuel technology can help decarbonize Canada’s airline industry.
It’s part of a larger push toward establishing a sustainable aviation fuel production sector in the country as Canada targets emissions-reduction targets of 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050. And for Calgary’s SixRing Inc., the ultimate goal is to play a key role in that economic opportunity.
The company recently received $1.4-million from the federal government, which it will use to scale up production with its technology that converts agricultural waste into renewable fuels.
Unlike other biofuels, which often use food-derived feedstocks such as canola oil, it uses crop and forestry by-products including straw and corn husks, wood chips, bark and wood infested with pine beetles.
Sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF as it is referred to in the airline industry, is non-petroleum-based jet fuel made from renewable materials. Feedstocks can be anything from corn sugar to used cooking oils to organic municipal waste, or even algae.
As a renewable alternative to traditional jet fuel, it is playing an increasingly important role in efforts by the airline industry to decarbonize.
Over the next three decades the airline industry expects technology to move toward hydrogen- or electrical-powered aircrafts, but in the meantime it’s eyeing SAF as a kind of stopgap measure.
The Canadian Council for Sustainable Aviation Fuels – a consortium of 60 airlines operating in Canada, as well as airports, research institutions and fuel producers – was launched earlier this year to spur Canadian development of SAF.
Geoff Tauvette, the council’s executive director, said in an interview that blending SAF into traditional jet fuel can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the sector by up to 80 per cent. And because it’s a drop-in fuel, it doesn’t require changes to aircraft or any special infrastructure at airports.
The group is in the process of developing a road map to help the airline industry get to 10 per cent SAF use by 2030.
The challenge today is that not a lot of SAF is being made, Mr. Tauvette said, generally because it’s harder and more expensive to make than traditional jet fuel.
“Canada has all the right ingredients to make it, but we don’t have the policy regime to support making it affordably,” Mr. Tauvette said.
“So we’re in a chicken and egg situation. The industry wants more, but at the same time, it needs to be affordable.”
While Canada’s carbon pricing framework and clean fuel standards help support the use of low-carbon fuels, those measures have been mostly geared toward ground transport, he said.
To help get an SAF sector off the ground, he said Canada needs to develop a tailor-made low-carbon fuel program for aviation – and it must move fast to ensure the country doesn’t lose ground to the United States, where the recent Inflation Reduction Act included a new SAF grant program and new tax credits to encourage production.
“Our biggest worry, I think, is those incentives drawing out any of the potential feedstock that we might be able to transform here, and therefore making it even harder for us to get an SAF market underfoot in Canada,” Mr. Tauvette said.
Keean Nembhard, spokesperson for federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, said advanced biofuels are expected to play a key part in Canada’s emissions-reduction goals. He pointed to the recent The Sky’s The Limit Challenge, which awarded Montreal-based Enerkem $5-million to scale up its own SAF technology, and the federal government’s Clean Fuels Fund to help produce low-carbon fuels such as SAF as measures to help support the sector.
Markus Weissenberger, SixRing’s chief technology officer, said there is a massive international push for alternative fuels.
And while the ultimate goal is to get into the SAF game, in the short term he expects that product developed by SixRing, a subsidiary of Calgary-based Fluid Energy Group Ltd., will go to refineries looking to lower their own carbon footprints by feeding greener fuels into their production processes.