As Hawaii pushes forward with a policy to produce all of its electricity with renewable resources by 2045, there’s always been a problem: What to do about transportation, especially air travel so central to the state’s tourism economy?
Now a startup with Hawaii ties may be about to start changing that.
Dimensional Energy, an eight-person firm operating a pilot project in Arizona, plans soon to start scaling up production of jet fuel produced from renewable resources — most notably carbon dioxide. Although airplanes using Dimensional’s fuel still would generate carbon dioxide from burning fuel, the fuel would essentially use as much carbon as it generates.
The result: zero net carbon emissions.
“We would use as much CO2 as we create in the combustion process,” said Jason Salfi, Dimensional’s co-founder and chief executive.
Eventually, the company plans to use the fuel for flights to Hawaii, he said. The company, which is now based in Ithaca, New York, could even build a large-scale production facility in the islands, he said.
If any of this seems far-fetched, it’s worth noting Dimensional Energy has backing from a major player in Hawaii’s renewable energy space. Specifically, the company is one of 19 businesses that Hawaii’s Elemental Excelerator announced in its latest cohort. Companies each receive training on how to operate and scale up as well as $200,000 to $500,000 in funding. Elemental focuses on fields like water, food and agriculture and mobility, as well as renewable energy.
Others in the latest cohort include WeaveGrid, which is designed to help utilities monitor and manage a growing number of electric vehicle charging stations; Courial, which connects consumers and businesses with a team of gig workers “to deliver anything, from documents and food to dry cleaning and furniture,” and Maui Nui Venison, which works to balance Maui’s invasive deer populations by harvesting the deer and selling meat.
Tiffany Huyn, Elemental’s director of external affairs, said the accelerator has gotten numerous applications from renewable fuel companies over the years – it had more than 600 applications in total this year — and decided to bet on Dimensional.
Announcing its working with Dimensional, Elemental said in a press release, “Hawaii is the perfect test bed for these types of solutions with the state’s concentration of short-haul flights.”
But Salfi said the fuel also could be used for flights between Hawaii and the mainland. In fact, he said, the company is in talks with a major air carrier that flies to Hawaii to buy significant amounts of Dimensional’s fuel after the fuel company scales up production by completing a facility that can produce 1,000 barrels per day of fuel as early as 2025.
Salfi declined to identify the airline, saying, ”They want to make the announcement, not us.”
Huynh said Elemental learned what companies Dimensional was talking to through Elemental’s due diligence, but she declined to share specifics.
Essentially, as Salfi describes it, Dimensional’s technology uses three simple ingredients: highly concentrated sunlight, carbon dioxide and hydrogen taken from water. Through a magical-seeming process, Dimensional produces what the company’s website calls “an energy-dense synthesis gas.” The “syngas” then can be used to make jet fuel.
It all seems a lot more high-tech than Salfi’s first company, an eco-friendly skateboard company called Comet. But Huynh says Elemental has vetted Salfi’s new product and is optimistic.
“We’re just really excited for their technology,” she said.
Salfi said Dimensional is starting small with a plant that can produce a half-barrel per day to prove the concept, then ramping up to 100 barrels per day by 2023. As early 2025, he said, the company expects to break ground on a plant that can produce 1,000 barrels per day at a cost of $1 per barrel.
How soon the company can set up shop might depend on how fast it can get permits for a production facility.
“At the end of the day, we’re making a drop-in replacement for aviation fuel, so we have to take the same care for the environment,” he said. “We have to do it right.”