Microsoft-Backed Clean Jet Fuel Startup Fires Up New CO2 Converter

Source: By Michelle Ma, Bloomberg • Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2024

Twelve took a major step toward creating aviation fuel from captured CO2 and water, which it plans to sell to airlines in the coming years.

An OPUS engineer holds a reactor cell.
An OPUS engineer holds a reactor cell. Photo courtesy of Twelve

Climate technology startup Twelve took a major step towards producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on Thursday by launching its commercial-scale carbon transformation unit.

The company will generate carbon credits for customers including Microsoft Corp. and Shopify Inc., in addition to producing clean jet fuel for Alaska Air Group Inc. Twelve is one of a number of emerging companies working on ways to transform captured CO2 into useful products. In the case of the Berkeley, California-based startup, its nascent technology will be critical to cleaning up one of the hardest-to-decarbonize sectors: aviation.

Twelve uses a technique called electrolysis that uses electricity to repurpose carbon dioxide and water into various products. When the electricity is generated from renewables, the process is essentially no-carbon. The company’s CO2 electrochemical reactor — called OPUS — will be at the center of its first commercial SAF production plant under construction in Moses Lake, Washington, that’s set to be completed later this year. The plant will run on hydropower and use CO2 captured from a nearby ethanol plant. That CO2 and water will be fed through OPUS and turned into synthetic gas, the basis of SAF. Twelve’s airline customers can blend it with traditional jet fuel. The resulting carbon credit can be bought by corporate customers like Microsoft to offset their business travel-related emissions.

The system is about the size of a shipping container, and Twelve’s electrochemical reactor technology allows it to produce fuel without taking up much space, Twelve co-founder and Chief Science Officer Etosha Cave said. Its unique low-temperature environment also allows the reactor to be ramped up and down fairly quickly, which means it can run when renewable prices are at their lowest compared to higher-temperature units that must run 24/7. The low temperatures also make for lower capital expenditure costs, according to CEO Nicholas Flanders.

CO2 electrolysis isn’t widely used today, though a study published last year in Joule found the technology is maturing and that it will be a “critical step” to cutting CO2 emissions for the fuel and chemical industries. SAF is also a long way from being cost competitive with traditional jet fuel, but airlines are under increasing pressure from governments and their own net zero commitments to integrate SAF into their fuel mix. The European Union has mandated that regional SAF usage needs to reach 2% by 2025, with the percentage rising to 70% by 2050. As of 2022, SAF accounted for 0.1% of the world’s jet-fuel supply, according to BloombergNEF.