• The bio-aromatics behind the first-ever 100% SAF trans-atlantic flight by a commercial airline  
    100% SAF using BioForm® Synthesized Aromatic Kerosene (SAK)
  • BioForming® process using multiple feedstocks
  • Virgin Atlantic - Boeing 787 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000

Fuel for Thought

The bio-aromatics behind the first-ever 100% SAF trans-atlantic flight by a commercial airline  

Nov 30 2023

The inaugural 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) trans-Atlantic flight by Virgin Atlantic has marked a watershed moment in sustainable air travel, propelled by the groundbreaking BioForming® Sugar to Aromatics (S2A) technology. Pioneered by Virent and collaboratively refined for commercial application with Johnson Matthey, this innovative process represents a huge shift in the quest to decarbonise aviation.

Addressing the formidable challenge of curbing aviation carbon emissions, traditionally resistant to reduction, the historic Virgin Atlantic flight signifies not just a milestone but a transformative breakthrough in SAF technology. Unlike previous practices involving SAF blended with conventional jet fuel, this journey across the Atlantic was exclusively powered by SAF, illustrating the potential of sustainable fuels in reshaping the aviation landscape.

Central to this was the development of bio-based aromatics designed to enhance SAF blending, enabling the seamless integration of 100% SAF into existing aircraft and fuelling infrastructure. Conforming to international jet fuel standards (Jet A), the synthetic jet fuel derived from the BioForming® process, known as BioForm® Synthesized Aromatic Kerosene (SAK), ensures the required 8-25% aromatic content. Previously achieved through blending SAF with conventional fuel, SAK represents a pivotal departure by using sustainable plant sugars into a bio-aromatic product.

This innovation not only satisfies the essential aromatic content for jet fuel but also facilitates blending with a spectrum of other SAFs. The significance lies in BioForm® SAK's role as a 'normaliser,' aligning diverse SAF blend stocks with aviation standards. Demonstrating its efficacy, various flights using BioForm® SAK underscore its capacity to meet aviation performance criteria, heralding a transformative era.

Maurits van Tol, Chief Executive of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey, emphasised the vital role of BioForming® technology in decarbonising air travel. The success of the Virgin Atlantic flight underscores the urgent need for expanding SAF production. Dave Kettner, President and General Counsel of Virent, highlighted the tailored design of BioForming S2A to not only meet current jet fuel specifications but also deliver cleaner, more efficient fuel, reducing particulate matter emissions.

BioForm® SAK's pivotal feature is its ability to provide essential aromatics for jet fuel without requiring extensive modifications to current aircraft and infrastructure. This 'drop-in' compatibility signifies a pivotal juncture in the aviation industry's trajectory towards decarbonisation and sustainability, epitomising a landmark achievement in the pursuit of a greener aviation future.

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