High above the clouds, freedom seems limitless. We like to fly and we do it a lot –probably even more in the future. But we are often plagued by a guilty conscience once on board because air travel is CO2 intensive. Now a solution appears to be in sight, even if still in its infancy: Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).
The European Green Deal envisages a significant reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions from air travel. “From 2025, at least 2% SAF, i.e. sustainable aviation fuel, must be added to conventional paraffin”, explains George Apostu, an OMV expert in the field of aviation. By 2050, this share should be gradually increased to 63%. In order to achieve these goals, the industry is working flat out on new technologies – because SAF cannot simply be produced on a large scale at the touch of a button. On the one hand, refining sites have to be built or adapted, and on the other hand, the raw materials suitable for these biofuels have to be procured: In this case, ‘suitable’ means that the raw materials do not interfere with any food or animal feed production.
How SAF is made
“In my private life, I like to travel and fly. In my work life, I make jet fuel. These two things go together, but the carbon footprint generated by air travel doesn’t – at least, not quite yet”, says Sonja Platzer-Ozenil. The chemist has been hard at work in the Schwechat Refinery on starting up the very first SAF production, thereby helping OMV Jet A1 Fuel lower its carbon footprint. And this in record time, as only six months went by from the start of the project until the first liter of SAF was ready. Since March 2022, the Schwechat Refinery has been producing SAF from used cooking oil in its paraffin hydrogenation unit.
I find it fascinating that something as supposedly useless as used cooking oil can become something as valuable as sustainable aviation fuel.
Sonja Platzer-Ozenil, Process Engineer, OMV Raffinerie Schwechat
“Refineries are a complex whole made up of countless units and processes that cannot be changed that easily. If you turn a cog, you sometimes set more in motion than you would like. At the same time, our goal was to start SAF production as soon as possible. That’s why we started blending small amounts of used cooking oil – and doing it in our existing facilities”. Currently, it is 0.3 percent by mass due to chemical-technical requirements. This means that for every liter of paraffin there is 0.3% biogenic SAF content. “That doesn’t sound like much initially. But it is an important first step with which we were able to achieve a great deal in the very short term by refinery standards. Adapting the existing process and using the existing hydrogenation plant has enabled us to start up SAF production within just a few months. Installing new equipment would have been much more time-consuming, we are talking several years”. At the same time, this is exactly what we’re now working on developing – because OMV’s ambition is to become a regional leader in SAF.
Sonja explains what it takes to achieve that:
What sustainable air travel and golden schnitzel have in common
Getting the used cooking oil for the Schwechat Refinery in the requisite quality was a decisive factor in realizing this project. “With Münzer, we have a reliable partner from the region who supplies us with great, high-quality feedstock. Because not all used cooking oil is the same – what was previously fried in it is really important, as is the quality of the original oil. After all, we don’t want to turn our hydrogenation plant into a garbage dump”, says Sonja.
More SAF for more flights
In terms of volumes, the Schwechat Refinery currently produces 1,500 metric tons of SAF. This saves about 3,750 metric tons of CO2, or in other words about 333 Vienna-London flights. But this is just for starters: “OMV has set itself the goal of increasing SAF production to 700,000 metric tons by 2030. That corresponds to one third of our company’s total Jet A1 sales”, says George.
Compared to conventional jet fuel, SAF delivers a CO2 reduction of more than 80% across the entire life cycle.
George Apostu, Key Account Manager Aviation, OMV Downstream
CO2 offsetting or not generating CO2 in the first place?
The best thing about SAF? “With SAF, a CO2 reduction of 85% can be proven compared to conventional jet fuel, from the raw material to the delivered ton. This means that CO2 emissions are not created in the first place”, he explains. This is a decisive advantage compared to CO2 offsetting, where, for example, investments go to reforestation projects to compensate for the CO2 that has been emitted.