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Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Sasol, Topsoe form JV to accelerate global production of sustainable aviation fuel

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South African energy and chemicals group Sasol and Danish decarbonisation technology company Topsoe have formed a 50:50 joint venture (JV) to develop, build, own, and operate drop-in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) plants globally.

The fuels will be produced primarily from non-fossil feedstock – such as green hydrogen, biomass and sustainable sources of carbon dioxide – using Sasol’s Fischer Tropsch and Topsoe technologies, such as its Hydroflex solution to process vegetable oils, waste oils, or fats into HEFA-based SAF.

Sasol already produces a certified jet fuel at Secunda, in Mpumalanga, but using grey hydrogen, and is pursuing a separate project, known as HyShiFT, to produce SAF at the complex using green hydrogen.

That power-to-liquids project to produce synthetic jetfuel is being pursued by Sasol in partnership with Linde, Enertrag and Hydregen and does not form part of the Sasol-Topsoe JV, which will initially pursue greenfield projects in Northern Europe and North America.

Demand for SAF is expected to rise strongly and Sasol and Topsoe, therefore, chose to unveil the venture at the 2023 edition of the Paris Air Show.

Speaking to Engineering News from the air show, Sasol’s Marius Brand reported that the venture, which still requires regulatory approval, received a warm reception from both airline manufacturers and operators, which are looking for drop-in solutions that require no or minimal engine adaptations.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has indicated that SAF will be essential to enable the airline industry to decarbonise, with the aviation sector contributing up to 3% of global carbon emissions currently.

IATA expects total renewable fuels production capacity, for all applications, to reach 69-billion litres by 2028, with SAF expected to contribute a portion of these volumes.

Sasol CEO Fleetwood Grobler described the JV as a milestone in furthering the JSE-listed group’s global SAF aspirations, as well as its strategy of becoming net zero by 2050.

“As we transform our business to focus on decarbonisation while preserving and growing value, this JV is testament to the decades of collaboration between our two companies,” Grobler said in a statement.

Topsoe CEO Roeland Baan said it was important to keep the world open by creating more sustainable ways of flying, and “our shared commitment to accelerating sustainable aviation fuels is a vital part of this”.

Brand reports that the JV is interrogating several “stepping-stone” projects to produce SAF using various technologies and expects the initial volumes to arise from HEFA-based solutions.

However, these resources are limited and both Sasol and Topsoe expect there to be a transition, starting later in this decade, towards power-to-liquids projects, which are likely to be located in areas with potent renewable resources and the “right carbon sources”.

The JV is likely to extend its investment gaze, therefore, to other Nordic countries, as well as Africa, North America and Iberia. 

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