LanzaJet’s Samartzis: “I don’t think demand is ever going to be an issue”
Jimmy Samartzis the CEO of LanzaJet is in a hurry.
Last week LanzaJet completed the final modules of its 10-plus storey alcohol-to-jet Freedom Pines Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) refinery in Georgia, US (pictured). This follows on from announcing a collaboration with Jet Zero Australia for a SAF production plant in Queensland, Australia, a few weeks ago. That was a few weeks after signing a memorandum of understanding with IndianOil.
LanazaJet already has two projects planned in the UK and is looking at four other sites in the US.
“There is huge demand for SAF,” says Samartzis. “In fact, I don’t think demand is ever going to be an issue, the question is how fast production can be ramped up. It is super exciting to see construction at our LanzaJet Freedom Pines Fuels facility. There is lots of talk around the world about SAF, but we are actually putting steel into the ground and bringing it to life.”
When it goes live later this year, LanzaJet Freedom Pines Fuels will be the world’s first commercial alcohol-to-jet refinery. Samartzis believes that few people have realised the true benefits of ethanol as a feedstock.
“Ethanol molecules are a great building block. With oils, there is only so much SAF that can be made from the molecules. With ethanol you can make a lot more SAF,” he says. “We can produce 90% SAF and 10% renewable diesel – but also have the ability to produce up to 75% renewable diesel or anything in between.”
LanzaTech, (which LanzaJet was spun out of) specialises in using bacteria to recycle pollution. It can take emissions from a steel mill or a landfill site and make ethanol that LanzaJet then turns into SAF (second generation ethanol). However, LanzaJet can also use alcohol from other sources such as Brazilian sugar cane or US cellulosic ethanol.
“Alcohol-to-Jet is very cost effective,” says Samartzis. “The production process is very cost effective and there is a global supply of ethanol. We are very excited about second generation ethanol from industry as a feedstock.” Samartzis says that ethanol SAF should be cheaper than HEFA SAF from waste oils and fats.
LanazJet has already signed agreements for the next 10 years of production at Freedom Pines. “It is important to have offtake agreements before projects start to give investors confidence,” says Samartzis.
The next facility to be built could be its DRAGON project in north Wales, UK. LanzaTech and LanzaJet will convert waste gases from steelmaking. This would be the world’s first commercial gas fermentation to SAF facility.
With so many projects planned, he is spending a lot of time talking to investors. “There is a lot of money out there, but finding the right investors is more important than taking any money. Expensive capital also hits the price [customers pay for fuel],” he says.
In 2022 the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund invested $50m to fund the construction of LanzaJet Freedom Pines. Last year, Breakthrough Energy Catalyst – the innovative corporate and philanthropic programme run by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy – provided a $50m grant.
“By being creative with Breakthrough Energy Catalyst we have saved about 80 cents a gallon compared to if we had to finance that same amount,” says Samartzis. “It is much more important to find innovative funding than to take any money offered to you.”
LanzaJet has also received funds from the US Department of Energy and the UK government. Its shareholders include Mitsui & Co, Suncor Energy, LanzaTech, British Airways and Shell.
Samartzis acknowledges that few start-ups go global as quickly as LanzaJet plans. “It says something about the confidence that people have in our technology,” says Samartzis.
“We have an amazing team of investors who dug deep into our technology and company. You typically see investors waiting for the first commercial production to go live before progressing with the next projects,” he says. “Ours are backing us and we’re moving forward projects simultaneously.”
They also know that he is in a hurry. “We all need to take action today,” Samartzis adds. “We will continue to push for change.”