A Polytechnique Montréal Department of Chemical Engineering research group is contributing to a commercial solution for the production of a low-carbon aviation fuel.
The project, entitled Développement et optimisation d’un design conceptuel d’usine de conversion de CO2 en carburants propres d'aviation (unofficial translation: development and optimization of a conceptual design for a plant to convert carbon dioxide into clean aviation fuels) is led by Polytechnique Montréal’s Associate Professor Daria Camilla Boffito’s Engineering Process Intensification and Catalysis Research Laboratory – EPIC group, in partnership with the SAF+ Consortium, CCG Climat, and the Québec Centre for Chemical Process Studies CÉPROCQ (Collège de Maisonneuve). This R&D program will position Québec at the forefront of carbon use technologies in the aviation and fuel industries.
The PRIMA Québec advanced materials research and innovation hub, alongside two Québec government entities - the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation and the Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatique – support the project. Valued at over $840,000, the Government of Québec is contributing $140,000 to the effort. The above funding was obtained through the Innov-R program, and comes from the Fonds d’électrification et de changements climatiques - FECC, a special fund dedicated wholly to the fight against climate change. Notably, the latter fund will be used to implement measures which are part of the government’s 2030 Plan for a Green Economy.
“Innov-R was specifically created to foster the emergence of innovative collaborative projects in strategic economic sectors that will enable Québec to move forward and achieve its GHG emission reduction targets more quickly,” declares Benoit Charette, Minister of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change, Minister Responsible for the Fight against Racism and Minister Responsible for the Laval Region. “Polytechnique Montréal’s project to produce a commercially viable low-carbon aviation fuel is a perfect example of this. The project is also directly in line with the objectives of our 2030 Plan for a Green Economy, which is aimed at reducing our emissions in the transportation sector.”
The main emitter of GHGs in Québec is the transportation sector. Its discharges reached 36.1 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 2018, accounting for 44.8% of Québec’s emissions. Emissions from domestic air travel increased by 2.3% between 1990 and 2018, reaching 0.84 Mt CO2 eq, representing 1.04% of Québec’s total GHG emissions in 2018.
Evaluation and testing of technological processes
The project involves the SAF+ Consortium’s development of the first commercial-scale technology platform for the conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial pollution into clean aviation fuel. Using renewable electricity and dihydrogen (H2), this technology has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 80% over the comparative life cycle of conventional aviation fuel. In the first step, CO2 is catalytically converted to carbon monoxide (CO) using a reverse water-gas shift reaction. The CO and H2 then undergo a catalytic reaction (known as the Fischer-Tropsch reaction), to obtain liquid hydrocarbons.
“The two stages of this technology platform have previously been the subject of separate research and development activities. However, there have been no in-depth studies on combining these steps for the production of aviation fuel from CO2, nor on the impact of the technological choices on the amount of paraffin present in the hydrocarbon mixture that would be produced by the process,” notes Professor Boffito.
The Polytechnique researcher adds: “The project’s objective is, from among available options, to identify the most promising configuration for aviation fuel production from a techno-economic point of view, and then to validate and optimize the process on a pilot-project scale. We’re also ready to accompany the SAF+ Consortium during the commercialization phase of the platform.”
Academic research activities led by Polytechnique will focus on process integration and the design of a catalyst and reactors for both stages. Among other initiatives, the EPIC research group will create an integrated design of the processes and design a new class of Fischer-Tropsch catalysts that will optimize the selectivity of aviation fuel.
In a parallel effort, a pilot project scale demonstration of the processes and catalysts will be carried out in spring 2021 at a green chemistry development centre located on an industrial site in the east of Montréal Island. The latter demonstration is taking place on the same site as the Valorisation Carbone Québec project, an R&D effort focused on technological solutions for the capture and recovery of CO2, led by Full Professor Louis Fradette (also Director of the Department of Chemical Engineering), and which is supervised by Polytechnique’s Institute on Sustainable Engineering and the Net-Zero Economy - IIDEC.
The CÉPROCQ is supporting the SAF+ Consortium, by developing analytical protocols and drafting a standard operating procedure for the equipment in the pilot project phase. The CÉPROCQ will also distil the finished products and verify their compliance during the pilot project phase.
A collaboration with huge potential
The Polytechnique Montréal led research project will eventually enable Canadian airlines to access a local source of low-carbon fuel to meet regulatory obligations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
In addition to promoting clean technologies and creating jobs, this collaborative R&D effort will also provide a carbon-reduction solution for large emitters via low-cost alternatives based on off-peak hydroelectricity use.
“I’m very happy with this collaboration, because we’ll see the positive effects in the not-so-distant future, and the benefits will be multi-faceted. The environmental aspect is obvious, but there could be beneficial impacts as well on the economy for the east end of Montréal and the airport zones, along with the creation of skilled, well-paid jobs,” notes Professor Boffito.
Jean Paquin, President and CEO of the SAF+ Consortium, adds: “SAF+ aims to be a pioneer in sustainable aviation fuel in Canada and, thanks to the support of the Ministère de l’Économie and PRIMA Québec, this project puts us on the right track.”
Alexandru Iordan, Chief Technical Officer and co-founder of the SAF+ Consortium, adds: “By partnering with experts from Polytechnique Montréal and the CÉPROCQ, we’re poised to accelerate the development of this project and become leaders in the field of sustainable fuel produced from carbon capture.”
Pascal Geneviève, General Director and co-founder of CCG Climat, states: “CCG Climat has been supporting the development of CO2 capture projects for many years and is proud to be the lead climate expert for this R&D program.”
PRIMA Québec advanced materials research and innovation hub, supports and facilitates the advanced materials ecosystem and acts as an engine of innovation and growth in Québec. Through support and funding, it stimulates Québec companies’ competitiveness by helping them benefit from research expertise. As a Sectoral Industrial Research Group (SIRG), PRIMA Québec relies on financial support from both the Québec government and the private sector when promoting research-industry relations.
Professor Daria Camilla Boffito’s expertise https://www.polymtl.ca/expertises/en/boffito-daria-c
EPIC research laboratory’s expertise https://www.polymtl.ca/expertises/en/engineering-process-intensification-and-catalysis-epic-laboratory
Department of Chemical Engineering website https://www.polymtl.ca/gch/en/
Centre d'études des procédés chimiques du Québec (CÉPROCQ) website https://www.ceprocq.com/en/