Zurich-based climate tech startup will use new funding to implement a pilot facility based on its groundbreaking sustainable kerosene technology in Switzerland
- Metafuels’ first institutional funding round comes from leading climate VCs Energy Impact Partners (EIP) and Contrarian Ventures
- Metafuels’ drop-in sustainable aviation fuel will lead on cost and environmental performance, and unlike electric or hydrogen propulsion does not require any redesign of aircraft or aviation infrastructure
- Aviation is responsible for around 2% of global CO2 emissions—some 800 million tonnes p.a. Metafuels’ technology has the ability to cut total life cycle emissions by up to 90%
13th December – ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – Metafuels, the developer of a groundbreaking technology for sustainable aviation fuel compatible with existing aircrafts, announces its first institutional funding round—led by prominent climate VCs Energy Impact Partners (EIP) and Contrarian Ventures.
Metafuels focuses on sustainable aviation fuel made using renewable electricity (eSAF)—a further environmentally-refined version of what has emerged as the leading long-term strategy to decarbonize air travel. It does not require the re-engineering or re-purchase of planes—nor a redesign of the underlying fueling infrastructure which supports both commercial and cargo airlines, route planning, or the existing customer experience, all of which make it an attractive and versatile option.
Metafuels’ eSAF, and that of its competitors, can replace normal kerosene regardless of the size and type of aircraft or whether it operates short-haul or long-haul. But unlike their competitors in this space, Metafuels’ approach achieves the lowest cost of production through high efficiency and ultra-high yield of SAF. Similarly, the technology has high environmental performance—through an up to 90% reduction of life cycle emissions and not chipping away at food and feed supply chains.
The problem Metafuels is solving: the 2% of carbon emissions produced by aviation
The decarbonization of aviation is one of the greatest technological challenges we currently face. Major barriers facing electrification (which likely will only ever support short-haul travel), and hydrogen (which faces complications in logistics and aircraft design, and will not work for long-haul) mean that viable solutions for travel using these technologies are many years away from being go-to-market ready. In an industry where single aircraft are currently intended to have a lifespan of 30 years and cost around $100 million apiece, the cost of reframing fleets for hydrogen and e-aviation is economically impossible for most long-haul carriers.
There is however one option that has no such drawbacks: a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that is a drop-in replacement for standard kerosene, which has the benefit of a drastically lower environmental impact both in production and use.
The Zurich-based startup will use the proceeds from the funding round, involving respected investors EIP and Contrarian Ventures, to set up a pilot facility at the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI)—with whom the company recently announced a collaboration. Metafuels’ eSAF technology enables a seamless transition away from fossil-based kerosene using a proprietary process for the conversion of green methanol to eSAF. Green methanol is a chemical produced from green hydrogen (H₂) and sustainably-sourced carbon dioxide. Green H₂ can be generated from water electrolysis driven by renewable electricity, whilst CO₂ can be captured from biogenic sources including wastes and residues in the short-term—and through direct air capture in the long-term.
Why SAF has so far eluded adoption at scale
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)—a blanket term for aircraft fuels made from sustainable carbon sources—isn’t new. What has eluded the industry so far is a SAF of any variety that can be affordable, produced efficiently at commercial scale and make a meaningful dent in any airline’s net emissions. This is the core problem Metafuels is aiming to solve. Its signature blend, the result of years of research, is aerobrew. This is sustainably produced kerosene, made from a two-step process that turns green methanol to kerosene.
Critically, unlike many of its competitors Metafuels is focused on a technology that produces jet fuel as its primary output. This highly selective approach ultimately enables a higher yield which, together with high energy efficiency, allows industry leading cost of production to be achieved. It also concentrates the use of valuable, sustainably-sourced carbon and renewable electricity into one product, rather than co-producing various other renewable hydrocarbons as by-products—such as gasoline or diesel—for markets that are contracting.
“Jetfuel is a special fuel,” says Leigh Hackett, Chairman, co-founder and CCO at Metafuels.“It has to operate in very varied environments from take-off to cruising altitude in all types of weather conditions while delivering high mission performance. Operational safety is paramount from fuel handling on the ground to high altitude combustion performance. Energy density, specific energy content, flash point, freeze point, derived cetane number, boiling curve and many other parameters have to meet stringent standards. Which is why, for safety reasons, these fuels need to go through the ASTM alternative aviation fuel accreditation process. There is currently no process to go beyond a 50% SAF blend, which is the current aerobrew target.” Hackett adds: “Though that will evolve over time.”
As for the challenges, Metafuels believes the move towards green mandates—the rising cost of conventional fuels and inevitable environmental taxation—and stakeholder demands will counterbalance the shorter-term additional cost of producing its eSAF. “Once we get past the building blocks of selecting sustainably-sourced carbon and hydrogen, we’re into relatively straightforward though groundbreaking technology to convert those components into jet fuel,” says Saurabh Kapoor. “Then, because it’s a form of kerosene (just not derived from petrochemicals), you can use the same pipelines, infrastructure, storage, transportation and aircraft. With industry leading cost of production, aerobrew will help airlines meet their obligations and stakeholders’ demands while maintaining competitiveness.”
“Metafuels’ expertise and engineering offer a pivotal opportunity to revolutionize sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) technology at a crucial time,” says Ashwin Shashindranath, Partner at Energy Impact Partners. “SAF solutions like Metafuels are essential for a seamless transition to greener travel methods without altering people’s flying habits, while also ensuring sustainability.”
Rokas Peciulaitis, Managing Partner and Founder at Contrarian Ventures, says: “We’re excited to join Saurabh, Leigh and the rest of the Metafuels team on their journey to transition aviation away from fossil fuels. To date, the aviation sector had very few feasible options to decarbonize. Flying is an absolutely essential part of the globalized economy, and without it we’d be numerous GDP percentage points worse off. We firmly believe Saurabh and Leigh and the team they’ve built as being at the forefront to scale SAF technology at large, and will enable us to keep flying with our net zero goals on track.”
Much of Metafuels’ approach—like air travel—focuses on cost efficiency. Battery powered planes have been touted as the future of air travel. But with current technology, the size and weight of the batteries required to power an aircraft over long distances are likely to prove antagonistic in energy expenditure when it comes to getting off the ground: they will simply be too big and heavy to be viable, restricting electric aviation to short haul hops.
Metafuels is a Zurich-based aviation tech startup, focused on the development and deployment of proprietary sustainable fuel technologies, with an initial focus on synthetic aviation fuel. Metafuels is positioned to address one of the most challenging areas of decarbonization, with the aviation industry responsible for up to 3.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Metafuels intends to develop and bring to market sustainable aviation fuels which do not require a reengineering or re-purchasing of existing aircraft, or aviation logistics infrastructure.
About Energy Impact Partners
Energy Impact Partners LP (EIP) is a global investment firm leading the transition to a sustainable future. EIP brings together entrepreneurs and the world’s most forward-looking energy and industrial companies to advance innovation. With over $4 billion in assets under management, EIP invests globally across venture, growth and credit – and has a team of over 80 professionals based in its offices in New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Palm Beach, London, Cologne, Oslo and Singapore. For more information on EIP, please visit www.energyimpactpartners.com.
About Contrarian Ventures
Contrarian Ventures is a pan-European climate-tech venture capital fund devoted to closing the funding gap facing future climate-tech founders. Contrarian is one of only a small handful to focus specifically on seed-stage investments and is dedicated to backing pioneers building technologies that will support the infrastructure of tomorrow. Benefiting from unparalleled levels of engagement with the climate-tech community, Contrarian has built a legacy of helping founders scale technologies that are not only world-beating but also world-saving. With a team all under the age of 35, Contrarian is the venture capital fund for the climate generation. It takes a collaborative, hands-on, founders-first approach, focused on backing the boldest and most ambitious climate entrepreneurs across Europe and Israel. It’s an approach that the fund believes will help the world meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, and the only viable one if we are to avert climate disaster by 2050. For more information on Contrarian Ventures, please visit www.cventures.vc.