Enerkem wins prize for sustainable aviation fuel

Enerkem, based in Montreal, has won a $5-million prize under Impact Canada’s the Sky’s the Limit challenge, which challenged Canadians to develop an affordable, cleaner aviation fuel.

The aviation industry is growing, with air traffic growing by five percent per year. While other modes of transportation can turn to alternative energy sources (e.g., electric vehicles), aircraft will continue to need liquid fuels for the near future.

Existing technologies and aircraft efficiency improvements will not be enough for the aviation industry to achieve its ambitious goals of carbon neutral growth by 2020, and to cut its total CO2 emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050. Achieving greater greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions in the aviation sector requires the widespread availability and use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is currently more expensive than conventional jet fuel.

Enerkem develops and uses advanced biochemical processes to convert municipal solid waste, as well as forestry and agricultural biomass, into sustainable chemicals and advanced biofuels, including sustainable aviation fuel. Enerkem employs two parallel processes: deconstruction and fractionation, and gasification.

The company says the resulting biogenic fuel will contribute to a 93% 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.”

In the challenge, four finalists received up to $2 million each over 18 months to support their efforts to develop methods for to scaling up production of sustainable aviation fuel in Canada.

Most of Enerkem’s research leading to the production of the sustainable aviation fuel was conducted at its Innovation Centre in Westbury, Quebec. 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. 

At the end, the $5-million prize was awarded to Enerkem because it demonstrated the most economically and environmentally sustainable approach for commercial-scale sustainable aviation fuel production in Canada.

The three other finalists were:

  • Carbon Engineering (CE), which demonstrated its air to fuels technology that converts atmospheric carbon dioxide, water, and green electricity into ultra-low carbon fuels.
  • Forge Hydrocarbons, which demonstrated its Lipid to Hydrocarbon (LTH) technology and its ability to produce renewable aviation fuels from waste fat and oil feedstocks.
  • SAF+ Consortium, which developed a circular economy solution that will capture industry emissions and transform them into clean synthetic fuel with 80 percent less carbon footprint than conventional jet fuel.