• Ron Kotrba

Enerkem wins Canada’s ‘The Sky’s the Limit Challenge’ for producing SAF from forest biomass


Enerkem has won Natural Canada Resources’ “The Sky’s the Limit Challenge,” underscoring its achievement in producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from forest biomass. “The Sky’s the Limit Challenge” is a national competition focused on developing clean, sustainable and economically viable aviation fuel in Canada that allows the commercial aviation sector to reduce its carbon footprint. The prize won by Enerkem constitutes a CAD$5 million (USD$4 million) grant to continue commercializing its SAF from forest biomass, an abundant Canadian resource. As one of four finalists in 2019, the company was selected to receive CAD$2 million to develop its technology to compete for the grand prize.

“I’m extremely proud of the recognition we’ve received from winning ‘The Sky’s the Limit Challenge,’” said Dominique Boies, CEO and chief financial officer of Enerkem. “In order to reduce the carbon footprint of commercial aviation, we joined forces with CRB and devised a realistic approach based on recognized technologies and using our abundant forest resources in a sustainable way. This was our solution’s core strength, as confirmed by the competition’s panel.”

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of natural resources, added, “Our government challenged innovators to find breakthrough cleantech solutions to help solve some of Canada’s biggest problems—and they delivered. I’m proud to award the grand prize for ‘The Sky’s the Limit Challenge’ to Enerkem and its deserving innovators.”

Most of the research leading to the production of the SAF from forest biomass was conducted at Enerkem’s Innovation Centre in Westbury, Quebec. CRB deconstructed and fractioned the biomass into recoverable intermediaries. Enerkem and CRB conducted the research using these intermediaries, leading to the SAF production. Some of the research was carried out in collaboration with the CanmetENERGY research center in Ottawa.

“The carbon in forest biomass comes from the atmospheric CO2 captured and transformed into constituent molecules through photosynthesis,” said Esteban Chornet, co-founder of Enerkem and CRB, and scientific director at CRB Innovations. “We were able to recover it by combining the technologies of biomass deconstruction and fractionation (CRB), gasification (Enerkem), oligomer production (Enerkem and CRB) and catalytic hydrocracking by Enerkem, as well as by CRB/Canmet. As a result, we managed to produce SAF allowing GHGs from air transportation to be reduced by 93 percent.”

The process to certify SAF from forest biomass is already underway in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, according to Enerkem.

The company is also working in partnership with Shell on another project to produce SAF from sorted urban waste in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using a slightly different process than the forest-biomass approach.

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