The future of renewable aviation fuel

Amazing sunset at the airport. Refueling of the airplane before flight.

Willie Coetzee, Market Development Director at Honeywell Europe, discusses what the future holds for renewable technology, such as renewable aviation fuel

“My name is Willie Coetzee. I’m currently the Market Development Director for our Honeywell Europe business. We have specifically a business unit called Honeywell Technology Solutions. I essentially do market and business development throughout the region for all of our sustainable solutions processes and industrial solutions. Previously I worked in a range of industries. I started off my career as a chemical engineer with a company called Sasol in South Africa, and since then, I’ve worked in the consulting industry. I also did a start-up a few years back on converting food waste to valuable products. So, I’ve always been in this type of space of new, more sustainable types of applications.”

What sustainability initiatives is Honeywell currently working on in terms of aviation renewables?

“World Energy have the first plant worldwide that produces 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). They’ve also announced they’re significantly expanding that footprint. So we partnered with them by helping them do the engineering for that expansion.
Many of our other customers are exploring the same technologies in the SAF space. We have sold more than 30 licenses for different technologies, so we are extremely busy executing projects in various phases. Some of them are starting up now, and if not, very soon.

“Specifically, we anticipate that our ethanol-to-jet technology, a subset of SAF, is going to be an area that’s going to accelerate rapidly alongside our existing engineering projects. It’s ready now – it’s a technology that we are already very well familiar with ethanol is available at a very large scale, easily right up to a billion gallons per year type of capacity. So that’s something that we see is going to be a big lever to help our customers to decarbonise and move towards renewable aviation fuel.”

How does Honeywell stay ahead of the curve when it comes to renewable fuels?

“We are a technology development research and development company at our heart. At my part of the company, Honeywell UOP, we’ve been developing new solutions at the cutting edge for over 100 years.

“Think, for example, of unleaded fuels; they are technologies that we drove and developed initially and are now the adopted standard. The list goes on. We are constantly researching and developing new catalysts that provide better performance. This is so we can perfect our processes, add parts to them, make them work better, get better yields and target the right products more efficiently. It’s really our experience that sets us apart, then – staying ahead means learning your lessons and being consistent in our want and desire to learn and improve our solutions.

What’s also really critical to us is the operating experience

“Aside from research and development experience, we are also aided by our stellar operating experience. We are the licenser with the most operating experience in installed unit capacity for dedicated renewable aviation fuel production. That means we can take that operating experience, the real world experience, and put that into our development, and that really helps us stay ahead of the curve because, in that operating experience, things happen that are unforeseen, new feedstocks get introduced for something like SAF, and as we are already operating in the space, we can be the first to adopt and seamlessly integrate with our existing technology. Then we can apply that to the benefit of our customer base.”

What sort of issues do you encounter when thinking about renewables on a global level?

“Obviously, climates vary, and what is needed for a particular area differs depending on where in the world.

We have a footprint just about everywhere you can think of

“I think the first thing to understand is because we have been doing these types of commercializations for so long and globally, we have a footprint just about everywhere you can think of.

“So we are extremely experienced in handling those types of differences, whether it be the environment, the temperatures, the pressures, the altitude or the feedstock compositions.
I think some challenges in converting feedstocks to renewable aviation fuel come from dealing with a lot of waste feedstocks, like used cooking oil and animal fats from the abattoir industry. You get feedstock fluctuations. But then again, we have a wide range of experience with different feedstocks. We have extreme flexibility, and we have the experience to handle that and design it into our units.

“There are challenges, but it’s nothing that we are not used to handling, and we’re relishing the challenge that will come as more and more feedstocks become viable sources of renewable aviation fuel in the years to come.”

How would you summarise Honeywell’s approach to renewables in just a few words?

“I would say we are experts at producing or developing revolutionary technologies and commercializing those at the scale required for the world economy across multiple industries.

“Our customer base makes up about two-thirds of the industries we serve, making about two-thirds of the CO2 greenhouse gas emissions globally. That means that we can apply that innovative side of ours and our ability to commercialise those industry-leading technologies for you to help in a very significant way.”

Is there anything you are particularly excited to see, renewables-wise?

“Wow, that’s really difficult, considering how broad we are! There’s so much I’m excited about. We know we need to make the transition. So as a world, I see a momentum that we’ve finally decided, and we know where we need to go. If I take the question in isolation and look at Honeywell, just one company, well, it’s our ability to touch so many different areas, right?

“If you look at the scale of our events, it’s clear we need multiple things. And if I look at that graph, I think, ‘Wow, we can touch just about all of those things, right?’ And that really excites me. I know it’s not a simple answer, but it excites me to think that there are many different pathways we can touch and help with.”

Are there any issues with being such a broad church company?

“It’s a fine balance, right? I mean, big companies have challenges, you always have because you have different areas and so on. But I think as a company, we are very focused. In the last couple of years, we have increasingly begun to exploit the synergies and work together as what we call ‘One Honeywell’.

“As you can see, we’re very far removed sometimes, even just geographically speaking! But what’s so great is I got there, and they were so excited, everyone piled into a room, and they wanted me to tell them about what we’re doing in our area.

The benefit of being such a wide company with so many applications far outweighs the challenges

“So I think, and I really believe, that the benefit of being such a wide company with many applications far outweighs the challenges you might expect. And I think it’s a key strength having those things. We can apply them at scale but also have that engine and that innovation that comes from the diversity we have to develop new things.”

On a personal level, what is it that motivates you in this field?

“What really motivates me is seeing the passion that our customers have because I think a lot of people think that the industry doesn’t want to make a change. But I see every day that they do. They have a passion for it. They want to make the change. They want the solutions to be able to do it realistically and feasibly.

“What excites me is seeing them having that passion and being able to connect the dots and say, ‘Hey, that problem that you have that you think is insurmountable – we have a solution for that’ and ‘Let’s talk and let’s see how we can help you out’. That’s really great. And it kind of makes it worthwhile to get out of bed and get in there and engage with them.”


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