Companies hope clean ‘fuel pool’ can replace oil

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2016

Companies from DuPont Co. to LanzaTech to Audi AG are championing the development of biofuels that release less than half of the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels as part of a new initiative.

The below50 campaign was announced yesterday during the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships Initiative, just outside the Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco. So far, 20 companies and organizations have signed on, most of them biofuel companies.

Participants are promoting the environmental and economic benefits of having a wide variety of low-carbon fuel options, rather than favoring any single solution like developing a fleet of electric vehicles, said Freya Burton, vice president of communications and government relations at LanzaTech.

“Our goal is to get as many interested companies on board as we can,” Burton said. “We are working across all types of technology and generations of technology.”

The inclusion of all technologies that cut CO2 emissions in half compared with traditional fossil fuels represents a major shift from previous debates, said Felicity Glennie-Holmes, director of communications at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The council, along with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials and Sustainable Energy for All, coordinated the initiative.

Past discussions of low-carbon fuels had focused instead on which technologies are better, she said.

“However, below50 goes deeper than just the technology that is used to produce these fuels. This is because below50 looks at individual projects specifically. … Every individual project included in below50 must show evidence (such as sustainability certifications) of their performance in order to be part of below50,” Glennie-Holmes said in an email.

The technologies currently in the campaign’s portfolio include conventional and lignocellulosic ethanol and engineered photosynthesis.

LanzaTech is using “gaseous residues” from industry and recycling the carbon monoxide-rich waste into fuel ethanol. The company’s approach cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as particulates and noxious emissions. LanzaTech is beginning to build its first commercial units in Taiwan, China and Belgium, and it plans to make its fuel commercially available within the next 18 months, Burton said.

According to the company, a life-cycle analysis by a third party found that the waste fuel reduced greenhouse gases by 87 percent compared with its fossil fuel equivalent. LanzaTech is also working on a drop-in jet fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than 50 percent compared with conventional jet fuel.

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Other participants leading below50 include Audi, the Brazilian Industrial Biotechnology Association, Yale University, Arizona State University, Poet LLC, Novozymes, Royal DSM, CGEE, Copersucar, DuPont, GranBio, the International Energy Agency, SkyNRG, Joule Unlimited, the Low Carbon Fuels Coalition, Pannonia Ethanol and Red Rock Biofuels.

They first began discussions last year in the months leading up to the Paris climate talks to identify ways that the transportation sector can do its part to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius, Burton said.

“One of the key points was we need to understand what it takes to get where we need to go in terms of climate,” she said.

According to U.S. EPA estimates, 26 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation. Globally, the sector accounts for about 14 percent of all emissions.

“With the critical need to decarbonize the transport sector immediately to meet global climate change mitigation goals, we need initiatives like below50 that engage breakthrough sustainable mobility technology companies and large public & private sector institutions to accelerate scale up and impact,” Brian Baynes, CEO of Joule Unlimited, said in a press release.

Although many people have fallen in love with electric vehicles, Burton said the group realized that cutting emissions enough to make a difference to the environment would not be possible with one or two solutions, and instead would require a “very broad fuel pool.”

Going forward, the companies leading the program will keep up regular communication and will meet in person at least four times a year. Those not part of the leadership group are required to produce an annual report about their sustainable fuel projects and provide proof that they are following sustainability practices.

The initiative is now aiming to attract members from across the transportation supply chain to develop a broader market for low-carbon fuels. While Audi is the only automaker on board so far, below50 is having “promising discussions” with other original equipment manufacturers, airlines and fleet managers, Glennie-Holmes said.