Microsoft, Alaska Airlines back CO2-to-jet-fuel technology



  • Twelve says its fuel could shrink the carbon footprint of business travel, but supply is far from commercial scale

A California startup developing uses for captured carbon dioxide said Thursday it formed a partnership with Alaska Airlines Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to commercialize its CO2-based jet fuel.

Twelve, one of a growing crop of “carbon transformation" startups, has designed an electrochemical reactor that can split carbon dioxide into chemical compounds that can be turned into fuel known as e-fuel. The company said the agreement with Alaska and Microsoft will help it work toward using its fuel in a commercial flight and eventually provide fuel for some of Microsoft’s business travel.

Twelve says its fuel offers a more than 80% cut in greenhouse-gas emissions compared with conventional fuels, including the impact of manufacturing and shipping. E-fuels can be used in regular jet engine but have to be blended with kerosene under industry standards.

Financial details of the deal weren’t disclosed. Twelve didn’t say how much fuel it plans to provide to Alaska, or when. The company is testing its technology in Berkeley, Calif., where it is based, but hasn’t made its fuel, branded E-Jet, on a commercial scale. However, the U.S. Air Force has already tested the fuel and Twelve expects its first industrial-scale plant to be online next year.

The agreement with Twelve marks the latest stage in Microsoft’s effort to reduce the carbon footprint of its employees’ air travel. Along with companies including Meta Platforms Inc. and Bank of America Corp., the software giant is a member of the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance, or SABA, a business coalition that pushes for technologies and policies that would enable low-carbon aviation.

About 2.5% of global emissions come from air travel, but those emissions are on track to rise as demand for jet fuel is expected to double from prepandemic levels by 2050, according to SABA.

Low-carbon alternatives to jet fuel remain scarce and expensive. In 2020, Microsoft made a deal with Alaska Airlines and SkyNRG, a Netherlands-based maker of biofuel, to use biofuel on some of its frequent business-travel routes. Biofuel, which is produced from crops or organic waste, can offer an up to 80% cut in emissions compared with fossil-based jet fuel, but many analysts question whether there could ever be enough to power the world’s flights as other industries compete for it.

Carbon dioxide doesn’t have that problem, Twelve Chief Executive Nicholas Flanders said.

“CO2 is widely available, it’s part of the problem that we are trying to address, so that means we have way more feedstock available than we need to make all of the world’s jet fuel," Mr. Flanders said. “There’s not enough biomass to go around."

But Mr. Flanders declined to put a figure on how much of the jet fuel market e-fuel could account for in the coming years.

Barriers to scaling up e-fuels include high prices, the need for approval from standard setters, and the logistics of delivering the fuel, said Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines’s senior vice president of public affairs and sustainability.

E-fuel prices ranged from $5.70 to $10.80 a gallon in 2021, compared with roughly $1.85 for kerosene jet fuel, according to estimates by BloombergNEF.

Government help is key to bringing costs down, Ms. Rakow said. She said Alaska Airlines is lobbying Washington to include e-fuels in a proposed federal tax credit for airlines that blend in low-carbon fuels. California, Oregon and Washington state already have programs in place that support low-carbon jet fuels.

“Then pricing begins to take care of itself more with market forces," Ms. Rakow said.

Twelve plans to build its industrial-scale e-fuel plant somewhere in the U.S. with access to abundant low-carbon electricity such as wind, solar and nuclear, Mr. Flanders said.

The company last month said it raised $130 million to develop its technology. Backers included venture-capital firm DCVC, Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, and the philanthropic program run by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

The company expects to source its carbon dioxide from industrial sources such as factories, Mr. Flanders said, but direct air capture could be a source in the future if the cost of that technology comes down.

Twelve has set its sights beyond jet fuel. For instance, it provided material for sunglasses made by sustainable-fashion brand Pangaia. Mr. Flanders said the technology can make building blocks for all kinds of products that currently rely on oil.

“You could be sitting on a seat in the plane and the foam would be made from CO2," he said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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