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Virent and Johnson Matthey: behind the pioneering technology that enabled the first 100% SAF trans-atlantic flight

December 3, 2023
Energy & Chemical Value Chain

In a landmark achievement for the aviation industry, BioForming® Sugar to Aromatics (S2A) technology developed by Virent and Johnson Matthey has enabled the first-ever drop-in 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) trans-Atlantic flight by a commercial airline. This historic flight represents a significant step in the aviation industry’s journey towards a lower carbon future.

The Virgin Atlantic flight was powered entirely by SAF, that was a drop-in replacement for conventional jet fuel, but made solely from sustainable feedstocks. This was enabled through the inclusion of a new bio-based aromatic jet fuel blending component. Aromatics are an essential part of jet fuel as they interact with polymer seals, making them swell to help prevent fuel leakage, increase lubricity, and ensure proper fuel system performance.

Originally invented by Virent and jointly developed for commercialisation by Virent and Johnson Matthey the BioForming® process converts sustainable plant sugars into bio-aromatic products, including BioForm® Synthesized Aromatic Kerosene (SAK). SAK supplies the necessary aromatics for jet fuel and can be blended with a range of other SAF, accelerating the shift from conventional fuel to sustainable alternatives compatible with existing aviation technology. The various demonstration flights using BioForm® SAK have also shown that SAK can be a ‘normaliser’ to ensure different SAF blendstocks can be brought within specification and meet aviation performance criteria.

Maurits van Tol, Chief Executive of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey said: “BioForming® technology is at the heart of this breakthrough, it’s the key to unlocking a future-ready solution for air travel with much higher levels of decarbonisation. Johnson Matthey has collaborated with Virent, to further develop and optimise the process and catalysts that underpin the BioForming® S2A technology.

“The successful Virgin Atlantic flight is a testament to what we can achieve. It is a call to action to accelerate SAF production. At Johnson Matthey, we’re committed to working with partners, such as Virent, and driving sustainable innovation and contributing to the global fight against climate change.”

Virent President and General Counsel, David Kettner said: “We are excited about the opportunity to work with these forward-thinking companies and to be a part of another successful demonstration flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel featuring Virent’s cleaner-burning BioForm® SAK.”

“With Virent’s plant-based fuels technology, this test flight showed that 100% renewable fuel can meet current specifications and work flawlessly in today’s commercial airline engines. Virent will continue to collaborate with future-focused companies, and through this collaboration we can continue to reduce emissions and power a more fuel-efficient airline industry.”

BioForm® SAK provides the aromatics needed in the jet fuel used for current aircraft and infrastructure without the need for any overhaul or modification. This means that the sustainable aviation fuel can completely ‘drop-in’. It allows for a complete shift from the current practice of blending conventional fuels with SAF to meet jet fuel standards to a 100% SAF solution. Ultimately, BioForming® technology has the potential to reduce carbon emissions significantly and marks a transformative moment for both the aviation industry and global environmental efforts.

Johnson Matthey is a global leader in sustainable technologies. For over 200 years we’ve used advanced metals chemistry to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.

Many of the world’s leading energy, chemicals and automotive companies depend on our technology and expertise to decarbonise, reduce harmful emissions and improve their sustainability.

And now, as the world faces the challenges of climate change, energy supply, and resource scarcity, we’re actively providing solutions for our customers. Through inspiring science and continued innovation, we’re catalysing the net zero transition for millions of people every day.

Virent is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation, an integrated refining, marketing and midstream logistics company. Virent uses its patented BioForming® technology to create the fuels and chemicals the world needs from a wide range of naturally occurring, renewable resources. Virent’s patented chemistry converts biobased carbohydrate feedstocks into products molecularly identical to those made from petroleum. Virent’s technology can produce a range of fuel products, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, as well as chemicals used for plastics, fibers and films. Virent is currently working with Johnson Matthey to further develop the BioForming® technology and license it for future commercialization.

Source: prnewswire.com

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