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Enerkem achieves ‘major breakthrough’ in producing SAF from local forest biomass


The Enerkem Innovation Center in Westbury, Quebec (Photo: Sylvie Trepanier)

Enerkem announced what it says is a major breakthrough in converting carbon from forest biomass into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using its proprietary thermochemical process. This milestone was achieved at Enerkem’s Innovation Center in Westbury, Quebec, Canada. It will be followed by the demonstration phase, which will lead to commercialization in the near future, according to Enerkem. This research is part of The Sky’s the Limit Challenge organized by Natural Resources Canada and for which Enerkem was selected as a finalist.

The aviation sector alone accounts for 3 percent of total global greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and its carbon footprint appears difficult to reduce. With the favorable support provided by the Renewable Transportation Fuels Regulation, the production of SAF from end-of-life materials has emerged as a future solution that will be the cornerstone of aviation's efforts to reduce its GHG emissions and eliminate them completely by 2050.

Currently, SAF can be produced from a number of sources, including waste materials, corn grain and CO2. Enerkem is already working with Shell on the use of waste materials for its Rotterdam project, and as part of The Sky’s the Limit Challenge, Enerkem has chosen a fourth source: forest biomass.

“Our diligent and innovative approach in developing our forest biomass conversion technology has enabled us to produce a sustainable aviation fuel that will reduce the full life cycle carbon emissions of the aviation industry by over 90 percent compared to conventional fuel,” said Michel Chornet, an executive with Enerkem. “This breakthrough will allow travelers to take flights that emit significantly less GHGs.”

Enerkem's aviation fuel is already in the process of being certified by Canadian, American, and European authorities. Enerkem already has the infrastructure in place to move to the commercialization stage (plant in Edmonton and innovation center in Westbury) and will be able to proceed as soon as the market conditions are met.

Agroforestry for sustainable aviation

Agroforestry captures atmospheric CO2 and, through photosynthesis, water and nutrients, converts the carbon in the CO2 into biomass molecules. The transformation of biomass into biofuels and marketable bioproducts represents a unique opportunity for innovation. It is this ecofriendly approach that inspired Enerkem to take part in the The Sky’s the Limit Challenge and convert Canadian forest biomass residues into SAF.

The benefits of this approach are numerous: creation of partnerships with regional communities, sustainable economic development, job and wealth creation in the region, diversion of urban biomass from landfills, and valorization of residual forest biomass.

“Our technology is proven,” said Dominique Boies, Enerkem’s CEO and chief financial officer. “We already have a commercial-scale biofuel plant in Edmonton, Alberta. It converts residual municipal waste into biofuels. A second plant is currently under construction in Varennes, Quebec, in partnership with Shell, Suncor, Proman, the Quebec government, and with support from Infrastructure Canada. This plant will process forest biomass in addition to nonrecyclable and noncompostable waste. In addition, last June, due to the substantial demand for sustainable aviation fuel, we decided, with our partners Shell and the Port of Rotterdam, to transform the proposed Rotterdam plant in the Netherlands. The planned production at this plant will now focus on converting waste materials into aviation fuels rather than renewable chemicals. The commercialization potential is there and we believe in it.”

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