Carbon capture, direct air capture, and SAF
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat and contributes to global warming. Currently, CO2 concentration in the air is 422.29 parts per million (ppm), which is 50 per cent higher than average pre-industrial levels. Although many industries contribute to these rising CO2 emissions, the global aviation industry alone is responsible for approximately 2.4 per cent (this figure does not account for environmental damage produced by contrails).
Many sustainability policies focus on reducing or stopping emissions, but it is also possible to extract carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. This can be achieved through plants absorbing CO2 and converting it into oxygen, but also from technologies enabling direct air capture (DAC) and carbon capture.
DAC, has been described as a form of industrial photosynthesis, “capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air and, when combined with storage (DAC+S), storing the captured CO2 deep underground.”
On the other hand, carbon capture intercepts CO2 from point sources like power plants and other industrial processes before it is emitted into the atmosphere.
DAC is still under development, but alongside carbon capture it has a potential to dramatically reduce aviation’s negative impact on the environment. Not least because the carbon sucked back out of the air can in turn be used to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Carbon capture to SAF in action
At the end of last month, United Airlines announced a $15 million investment in carbon capture company Svante. Svante provides materials and tech as part of the value chain that has the potential to convert CO2 removed from the atmosphere and from industrial emission sources into SAF.
United CEO Scott Kirby said:
“Carbon capture technology ahs the potential to be a critical solution in the fight to stop climate change and has the added benefit of helping us scale the production of SAF […] At United we’re building on that approach by investing in both companies that an capture CO2 and others that can turn it into fuel. There’s no questions that this carbon utilisation is in its infancy today, but as a leader in sustainable flying we must help build the foundation to deploy this technology of the future as expediently as possible.”
The press release detailed that Svante’s scalable, eco-friendly, and commercially available carbon capture and removal technology employs structured absorbent beds, known as filters. These filters can capture 95% of CO2 emissions from industrial sites as well as CO2 that’s already in the air. Once the CO2 is captured, it is concentrated and can be used in the creation of SAF or other products. It can also be safely transported and stored underground.
Jason Salfi, Dimensional Energy’s CEO explained:
“It’s great to see United’s commitment to building an ecosystem for carbon dioxide (CO2) to Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) manifest through this significant investment in Svante,” […] “The teams at Svante and Dimensional Energy are working together to design integrated systems for captured CO2 to SAF today. There is enough CO2 in the atmosphere and in industrial process emissions to provide all of the carbon necessary for the fuels and products people use every day now and into the future. Svante provides the first step toward a circular carbon economy.”
Reducing aviation’s impact on the environment will require a multifaceted approach. As the industry turns to towards fuel alternatives, it is important to look at how SAF can work both symbiotically and in tandem with carbon removal to further climate mitigation.
For more on SAF see: Interview with Sami Jauhiainen, Vice President Asia-Pacific at Neste – SAF in the region
Article by Jess Brownlow