Sustainable Aviation Fuel development recently reached two key milestones with Wilton International and Teesside emerging as the location of choice for sustainable fuel production

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On 28th November 2023, a Virgin Atlantic plane successfully completed the first transatlantic flight – from London to New York – using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), showcasing and testing the feasibility of its use in long-haul operations.

SAF is a cleaner alternative to fossil-based jet fuel. With the potential to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 70%, Sustainable Aviation Fuel could make a key contribution to the aviation sector’s net zero goals. 

Engines in commercial use are not yet certified to fly on more than 50% SAF so there were no paying customers or cargo on board.

The scale-up challenge

Current regulations permit a maximum blend of 50% SAF with traditional jet fuel (without the need for engine modifications). The rapid scale-up and adoption of SAF will require innovation, investment and technology development across the value chain, as well as the support of governments in areas including regulation and incentives. However, airlines including Ryanair and Emirates have already placed significant orders for SAF in accordance with their sustainability commitments. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), ‘a rapid scaling of SAF production to fully satisfy demand is possible in the 2035-2040 timeframe if the public and private sectors align.’

Where is sustainable fuel produced?

With the scale-up of sustainable fuel production, Wilton International in Teesside has emerged as a location of choice for both prototype and manufacturing facilities in the sector.

Nova Pangaea Technologies (NPT) is one cleantech business making the journey from technology demonstration to commercial production at the site. The company’s revolutionary REFNOVA® process converts wood residuals and non-food derived agricultural materials into high-value, sustainable products, including advanced biofuels used to produce SAF.

Recently almost £40million from the Department for Transport’s Advanced Fuels Fund was awarded to five Teesside-based firms leading the way in creating SAF – meaning more than 75% of all Government funding is coming to the region.

As part of this, Nova Pangaea Technologies were awarded £9million for Project Speedbird which involves developing a commercial scale plant that uses pyrolysis and ethanol-to-jet technology to create Sustainable Aviation Fuel. The plant is expected to be operational in 2025 and produce 2.7kt/y of SAF when at full operational capacity.

Nova Pangaea Technologies built its initial demonstration plant at Wilton International thanks to a solid foundation of grants and investors. The plant was a vital first step, providing the means to show the REFNOVA® technology in action and demonstrate value to future investors and customers.

The company has since announced that it will build both its first commercial plant, NOVAONE, and a new headquarters facility at Wilton International, benefiting from site owner Sembcorp’s established infrastructure, utilities, and services, as well as a strategic location within the Teesside Freeport zone.

Ensus UK is another company manufacturing sustainable fuel at Wilton International – in one of Europe’s largest renewable ethanol production plants. Providing a prime example of the circular economy, the facility splits locally sourced, feed-grade wheat (not for human consumption) into three key products: bioethanol – added to petrol to reduce transport emissions; high-protein animal feed; and CO2 – captured for use in food production and industrial processes. According to Ensus UK the process involves the complete utilisation of the raw materials involved.

Benefits of Wilton International for sustainable fuel manufacturers

For businesses investing in the sustainable fuels sector Wilton International offers numerous location advantages. The site’s private wire electricity grid utilises fuel types including biomass and otherwise non-recyclable domestic waste to deliver resilient, cost-effective power. Steam, various grades of water and industrial gases are available in large quantities supplied via an established network of pipelines and service corridors. 

A key location within the Teesside industrial cluster

Being located within the wider Teesside chemicals cluster – committed to becoming the UK’s first decarbonised industrial cluster – delivers additional benefits. These include access to feedstock supplies, multimodal logistics, and research and development (R&D) focused on the circular economy and net zero industry all backed up with dedicated support from local government and the North East of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC).

There has been recent good news about Freeports too, as announced in the Autumn Statement; benefits have been extended five years from 2026 to 2031. This means businesses considering coming to Wilton International, within the Teesside Freeport, have more time to take advantage of the tax benefits on offer if they build within the designated tax zones.

New technologies like sustainable fuels achieve their full potential when research organisations, industry and governments work together towards a common goal and Wilton International is a place where such development can flourish.

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