Breaking Barriers: Ethanol’s Role in Reducing Aviation’s Carbon Footprint

The following is an article originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of Ethanol Today.

Breaking Barriers: Ethanol’s Role in Reducing Aviation’s Carbon Footprint

By Kristine Klavers, Managing Director, Houston, Petroleum and Refining

The ethanol industry, traditionally known for providing high-octane renewable blendstock in gasoline for internal combustion engines, is now turning its expertise toward aviation, crafting a new narrative in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Ethanol producers see SAF as a promising opportunity to grow their industry amid rising sales of electric vehicles (EVs). This strategic shift towards SAF production is a testament to ethanol’s versatility and potential to significantly reduce the aviation sector’s carbon footprint.

Central to its feasibility and wider use, is reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to petroleum jet fuel and achieving a low carbon intensity (CI) score. A CI score that indicates low GHG emissions throughout the fuel’s lifecycle, from farming, transportation, production, and use is crucial for environmental compliance and market viability.

READ MORE: U.S. Treasury and IRS Release Guidance on Section 40B Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Credits

Today, the majority of the SAF used to date (in the U.S. and the European Union) is being produced via the hydrogenation of seed oils such as soybean oil and rapeseed oil, animal fats, distiller’s corn (DCO) and used cooking oil (UCO) – otherwise known as hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA). While not at economies of scale like the HEFA route, alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) technology pathways are showing promise as a contributor to SAF production in the long term. In early 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the first Renewable Fuel Standard pathway for Lanzajet’s production of SAF from Brazilian undenatured sugarcane ethanol. The EPA determined this pathway gives a 54-66 percent reduction in GHGs compared to petroleum jet fuel.

Navigating the emerging SAF markets’ technical and regulatory landscape is challenging but it doesn’t have to be. Companies like EcoEngineers are pivotal in ensuring feedstock and production compliance, facilitating technology and feedstock pathway registration, and conducting risk analysis and feasibility studies. Its expertise in Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA), indirect land use calculations (iLUC), regulatory engagement, compliance management and carbon market navigation are invaluable for ethanol producers transitioning to SAF production.

While the lifecycle emissions profile of corn ethanol doesn’t have an inherently low CI score, innovative land management and the addition of carbon capture and storage (CCS) can help further reduce its carbon footprint. However, integrating ethanol into the SAF market demands a deep understanding of carbon pipeline logistics, managing carbon dioxide (CO2) capture, transport and sequestration, which is critical for reducing overall emissions. Integrating sustainable farming practices like cover cropping, no-till farming and the use of green fertilizer could reduce the overall CI score of ethanol production even further. The technical, regulatory and public acceptance challenges in this domain necessitate a nuanced approach, combining industry knowledge with environmental stewardship.

READ MORE: Renewable Diesel and SAF: The Path to Net Zero

The ethanol industry’s venture into SAF production is a bold step toward a more sustainable aviation sector. With the support of specialists like EcoEngineers, the industry is well-equipped to overcome the challenges of SAF production, proving ethanol’s role in the energy landscape is evolving to meet modern-day environmental challenges. This shift underscores the industry’s adaptability and commitment to innovative solutions, paving the way for a more sustainable future in aviation fuel technology.

SAFFor more information about our SAF or petroleum refining services, contact:

Kristine Klavers, Managing Director, Houston, Petroleum and Refining |

Navigating Uncertainties: Ethanol’s Resilience Strengthening Resolve

The following is an article originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of Ethanol Today.

Navigating Uncertainties: Ethanol’s Resilience Strengthening Resolve

By Mark Heckman, Strategic Development Director, U.S. Biofuels

2023 has certainly proven to be a roller coaster of optimism, challenges and the need for adaptability for the ethanol industry. In a welcome turn of events, the U.S. Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) brought a much-needed dose of clarity to the industry by releasing guidance on the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) tax credit.

The guidance clarified that an updated version of the Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) model will be among the methodologies used to determine eligibility for the tax credit.

READ MORE: Creating New Opportunities for Ethanol Producers

The SAF guidance is a step in the right direction that gives the ethanol industry hope that it will be able to participate in the opportunity to decarbonize the aviation sector. The guidance requires U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) approval of ethanol to SAF fuel pathways under 40 CFR Part 80 Subpart M, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and Q-Renewable Identification Number (Q-RIN) generation before they can be eligible for federal tax credits. Fortunately, the USEPA has indicated that it will review pathway applications for facilities that produce SAF from ethanol, and we hope this will embolden ethanol plants to submit pathway applications for this exciting new opportunity.

Therefore, I encourage us to look at the glass as half-full and use this time to prepare a strategy.

While the IRA/SAF credit is welcome news, there are still hurdles to face in the ethanol industry. The corn kernel fiber (CKF) guidance released by the USEPA in August 2022 has seen pathway applications stalled, and carbon dioxide (CO2) pipeline projects are being delayed or stopped.

However, adversity often sparks innovation, and our industry is no stranger to rising to the occasion. Instead of relying solely on government programs, ethanol producers can explore alternative strategies that grant them more control over their destiny.

Below are a few opportunities that I believe should be included in an ethanol plant’s 2024 strategy:

  • On-Site Sequestration or Utilization: If ethanol producers have favorable geology next to their facility, injecting and permanently storing CO2 is a huge opportunity. If the available geology is not viable, then exploring CO2 utilization should be considered. Many established markets such as chemicals, specialty fuels, and animal feed are seeking biogenic CO2 to support their own ESG goals.
  • Ethanol-to-Jet: As mentioned above, the guidance from the U.S. Treasury around the SAF tax credit opens the door for ethanol-to-jet. The base tax credit appears to be available for any RFS-registered pathway that can generate a Q-RIN with “extra credit” calculated in the to-be-released GREET model. If economics can work without the extra credit, ethanol plants should be identifying project opportunities and submitting pathway applications to the USEPA now.
  • Voluntary Carbon Markets (VCMs): One significant shift in strategy is the participation in VCMs by ethanol producers. VCMs are alternative markets that allow carbon emitters to offset their emissions by purchasing carbon credits. As ethanol plants continue to find creative ways to lower the CI of ethanol, these CI scores are being offered to VCMs when compliance pathways are not lucrative or take too long to get the required regulatory approval. For example, an ethanol producer sequestering CO2 can monetize carbon sequestration in VCMs when regulatory pathways are not available or attractive. Finally, there is a large pool of carbon credits from climate-smart practices on corn fields and cooperatives supplying ethanol plants with feedstock. This sets the stage for an ethanol plant to adopt large-scale sustainable farming practices and bundle those credits for VCM buyers or to lower their CI as they supply feedstock for SAF production.

Adaptation Through Innovation

The question arises: “How Might We?” (HMW) — a phrase that encapsulates the spirit of innovation in these challenging but exciting times. Approaching the challenges as opportunities and driving forward has been the industry’s approach in the past. Industry veteran Ray Defenbaugh taught me that “grit” and optimism to take action is what started this industry and what keeps it thriving.

READ MORE: SAF Means a Massive Market for Low CI Ethanol

As we lean into 2024, I’m reminded that the ethanol industry is no stranger to facing and overcoming obstacles and we will surely face more ahead. Each detour opens new opportunities for the industry to innovate and discover new avenues for monetizing carbon reduction. It’s a testament to this industry’s resilience and unwavering commitment to a sustainable future. The ethanol industry is not merely weathering the storm; it’s using the turbulence to redefine its course and explore uncharted territories.

Mark Heckman

For more information about our Ethanol and Biodiesel services, contact:

Mark Heckman, Strategic Development Director, U.S. Biofuels |

The Energy Transition’s Impact on Oil and Gas Prices

The following is an excerpt from an article originally published on November 28, 2023, on

The Energy Transition’s Impact on Oil and Gas Prices

Urszula Szalkowska, Managing Director, European Markets for EcoEngineers was recently quoted in the article, titled “Price Volatility? You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” about whether the energy transition will have a short-term impact on oil and gas prices going forward. 

“My reaction would be yes,” said Urszula Szalkowska, Poland-based managing director for Europe at EcoEngineers, a global consulting firm that works with companies to navigate the energy transition. “Especially in Europe, where in road and aviation, there is a steep decarbonization through biofuels.”

“My thinking is that this is going to impact demand for fossil fuels,” she told Hart Energy. “[Producers] will have to look for different markets, like chemicals, where decarbonization is expected through more efficient processes, which also adds to the price.”

Click here to read the full article on Hart Energy.

For more information:

For more information about the European Union’s (EU) Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) or other EU climate policies and programs, please contact Urszula Szalkowska at