Canadian Biomass Magazine

Enerkem wins ‘The Sky’s the Limit Challenge’ for producing SAF from forest biomass

March 30, 2022
By Enerkem

Photo courtesy Enerkem

Enerkem is proud to announce that, as the project leader in partnership with CRB Innovations, it has been selected by an independent panel of international aviation experts as the winner of “The Sky’s the Limit Challenge” hosted by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), from among the four finalists. This prestigious honour underscores its significant achievement in producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from forest biomass carbon. The resulting biogenic fuel will contribute to a 93 per cent reduction in GHGs from air transport per unit of fossil fuel replaced by SAF.

“I’m extremely proud of the recognition we’ve received from winning ‘The Sky’s the Limit Challenge,’” said Dominique Boies, CEO and CFO of Enerkem. “In order to reduce the carbon footprint of commercial aviation, we joined forces with CRB and devised a realistic approach based on recognized technologies and using our abundant forest resources in a sustainable way. This was our solution’s core strength, as confirmed by the competition’s panel.”

“Our government challenged innovators to find breakthrough cleantech solutions to help solve some of Canada’s biggest problems — and they delivered,” said the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources. “I’m proud to award the grand prize for The Sky’s the Limit Challenge to Enerkem and its deserving innovators.”

“The Sky’s the Limit Challenge” is a national competition focused on developing clean, sustainable and economically viable aviation fuel in Canada that allows the commercial aviation sector to reduce its carbon footprint. The prize won by Enerkem constitutes a $5 million grant to continue commercializing its innovative fuel. As a finalist, the company was selected in 2019 to receive $2 million to develop its technology to compete for the grand prize.

Most of the research leading to the production of the sustainable aviation fuel was conducted at Enerkem’s Innovation Centre in Westbury, Que. CRB deconstructed and fractioned the biomass into recoverable intermediaries. Enerkem and CRB conducted the research using these intermediaries, leading to the production of sustainable aviation fuel. Some of the research was carried out in collaboration with the CanmetENERGY research centre in Ottawa. The work was led by Michel Chornet, executive vice-president, engineering, innovation and operations, Enerkem; Stéphane Marie-Rose, director, catalytic processes group, Enerkem; and Esteban Chornet, co-founder of Enerkem and CRB, and scientific director at CRB Innovations.

The aviation sector alone accounts for three per cent of total global GHG emissions, and its carbon footprint seems difficult to reduce. There are currently several sources of exploitable biofuels, including residual lipids such as used cooking oils and vegetable oils, municipal solid waste and CO2 from green power production.

“The research we conducted as part of ‘The Sky’s the Limit Challenge’ allowed us to develop another source, specifically forest biomass. It has often been described as Canada’s “green” edge. It’s affordable and has been used nationally for generations in various applications. The carbon in forest biomass comes from the atmospheric CO2 captured and transformed into constituent molecules through photosynthesis. We were able to recover it by combining the technologies of biomass deconstruction and fractionation (CRB), gasification (Enerkem), oligomer production (Enerkem and CRB) and catalytic hydrocracking by Enerkem, as well as by CRB/Canmet. As a result, we managed to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) allowing GHGs from air transportation to be reduced by 93 per cent,” said Chornet.

In partnership with Shell, Enerkem is already working on another project to produce aviation biofuels from sorted urban waste in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using a process that is slightly different from the forest biomass method. The process to certify aviation fuel produced from forest biomass is already underway in Canadian, U.S. and European jurisdictions.

“Demand for sustainable fuels is very strong across all transportation sectors. In order to fully benefit from the production of these fuels, commercial aviation must be able to integrate their cost into its current rate structure. Otherwise, the biofuels produced will go to other promising markets,” concluded Boies.

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