First commercial airline flight using 100% drop-in SAF

Posted on 13 December, 2021 by Advance 

In an historic first for the aviation industry, a passenger carrying commercial aircraft has flown using 100% drop-in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one of its two engines.

Image courtesy Johnson Matthey

The  BioForming  process,  invented  by  Virent,  a  renewable  fuels  and  chemicals  technology  company  and  being  further  advanced  for  commercial  deployment with Johnson Matthey (a sustainable technologies specialist) and others was a key step in enabling the 100% drop-in SAF production.

On 1st December 2021, a United Airlines  Boeing  737  Max 8 aircraft  flew over  100  passengers from Chicago to Washington DC with 500 gallons of 100% drop-in SAF powering the one engine. The same amount of conventional jet fuel was used in the other engine to compare performance and confirm no operational differences with the alternative fuel. SAF in general has a substantially lower carbon intensity than
conventional jet fuel while 100% drop-in SAF has the added benefit that it can be used without any modifications to engines, airframes or fuelling infrastructure.
The  BioForming  technology  converts  sugar  feedstocks  into  a  product  known  as  BioFormate via a catalytic process. BioFormate can then be used to create biofuels, including  BioForm  synthesised  aromatic  kerosene  (SAK),  which  can  be  blended  with  renewable  paraffinic  kerosene  to  produce  the  100%  drop-in  SAF. Johnson Matthey  and  Virent  have  partnered  since  August  2016  to  further  develop  and  commercialise the BioForming technology and offer it for licence to third parties.  The  event  culminated  with  a  reception  hosted  by  United  Airlines  at  Washington D.C.'s Reagan National Airport to mark this milestone event. Representatives from Johnson Matthey and Virent attended to mark the historic occasion.

Jane Toogood (above), Sector Chief Executive, Johnson Matthey commented: “We’d like to congratulate United Airlines, Virent and the other partners on this pioneering flight. We are delighted to have played such a key role with our partner Virent in this latest step  in  the  decarbonisation  journey  and  it  is  further  evidence  that  Johnson Matthey’s  technologies  as  a  whole  are  accelerating  the  transition  to  a  net  zero  world.  The  BioForming  process  draws  on  a  reliable  and  deep  feedstock  pool  that  can be sustainably produced. This flight demonstrates that creating 100% drop-in SAF is entirely possible and indicates a clear path for greater adoption of low carbon jet fuels by the airline industry.”