Home / FLO / Critical component helps power recent SAF demonstration flight

Critical component helps power recent SAF demonstration flight

Critical component helps power recent SAF demonstration flight
Photo courtesy of Marathon Petroleum

Virent’s plant-based synthesized aromatic kerosene has helped power an Emirates Airline demonstration flight, the first in the Middle East and North Africa to use 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one engine and traditional jet fuel in the other. Virent, a Marathon Petroleum Corp. subsidiary, used its BioForming® process to produce the synthesized aromatic kerosene (SAK), a critical component that made the 100% SAF possible.

“Virent’s technology converts widely available, plant-based sugars into the compounds that make it possible to fuel a jet engine without the need to blend SAF with traditional jet fuel,” said Dave Kettner, president and general counsel of Virent, Inc. “Along with Marathon Petroleum Corporation, we are committed to meeting today’s energy needs while investing in an energy diverse future, and today’s flight is a great example of this commitment. We’re excited about this opportunity to work with our forward-thinking colleagues at Emirates, GE Aerospace, Boeing, Honeywell and Neste as we demonstrate that we can power sustainable aviation without modifying today’s engines or the infrastructure that serves the airline industry.”

Sustainable aviation fuels, which are typically made from used cooking oil or other plant-based oil feedstocks, have to be blended with petroleum products because SAF lacks a component called “aromatics,” which is required to meet today’s jet fuel specifications. Virent’s synthesized aromatic kerosene, made from renewable plant sugars, provides those aromatics.

Because Virent’s SAK is made from plant-based sugars as feedstocks, the carbon impact on a lifecycle basis is less than that of petroleum-based fuels. Virent is targeting greater than 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for SAK from a commercial project, with the potential to achieve net zero emissions using options such as renewable electricity, renewable natural gas and carbon capture and sequestration in the production of SAK. Virent has also developed data from engine testing that shows an SAF blend using its SAK is cleaner burning and has lower particulate matter emissions than conventional jet fuels.

“We share Emirates Airline’s goals of minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and scaling up the supply chain for SAF,” said Kettner. “Because SAF is a relatively new fuel technology, it’s critical that we collaborate on flights like this to bring SAF into more widespread use.”

This latest use of Virent’s technology to help power jet engines with 100% SAF comes after successful demonstration flights with United Airlines in December 2021 and Gulfstream in December 2022.

Andeavor, formerly Tesoro Refining & Marketing, acquired Virent in September 2016 with a primary interest in further developing and using Virent’s BioForming® technology to produce ‘drop-in’ bio-fuels and chemicals. Andeavor was later acquired by Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC) in October 2018 and, as a result, Virent is today a wholly owned subsidiary of MPC.