News In Context

European Deep Tech Companies Partner To Produce E-Fuel From Forest Waste

Two European deep tech companies announced June 13 that they are planning to build a production plant in southern France that can produce biocarbon and e-fuel from renewable raw materials.

The integration of complementary technologies developed by France’s Soler Group and Germany’s Ineratec aims to optimize the conversion of forestry residues (and other biomass materials) into high-quality biocarbon and syngas and then use that to make high-value e-fuels. E-fuels, also known as synthetic fuels, are liquid fuels produced from renewable energy. These fuels have similar chemical properties to fossil fuels and can be used in conventional combustion engines without the need for modifications. However, the production of e-fuels requires a lot of energy, which must be generated from renewable sources to have a positive environmental impact.

The new plant is expected to produce 12,000 tons of e-fuel annually, increasing the availability of carbon-neutral fuels for hard-to-abate mobility sectors such as aviation, shipping, and road transport, Tim Boeltken (PhD) managing director and co-founder of Ineratec, said in an interview with The Innovator.“We plan to export this technology globally,” says Boeltken. North America is a target.

Forests, which act as a carbon sink, are a plentiful resource. They cover a little more than a third of the planet’s habitable land. Over half of them are found in only five countries: the United States, Canada, Russia, Brazil and the People’s Republic of China. In metropolitan France, forests occupy about 31% of the territory and provide a habitat for 136 different tree species.

The French plant expects to avoid 100,000 tons of CO2 equivalent a year by leveraging the synthesis gas that is generated by Soler’s technology as a co-product of the biocarbon generated from wood residues.

“It is not about chopping wood, it is about forest management and making them environmentally resistant against climate change,” says Boeltken.

The process begins with Soler’s pyrolysis technology transforming forestry residues from thinning operations into high-quality biocarbon while also generating clean syngas.

Ineratec’s role is the production of high-grade e-fuels from the clean syngas made by Soler.The Power-to-Liquid process developed by Ineratec combines the purified syngas made by Soler with hydrogen. This synergy leads to a use of 95% of the biomass carbon, achieving maximum resource efficiency, say the companies.What’s more the process requires the addition of less hydrogen because it draws some from Solar’s cheap green biogenic feedstock , helping lower costs. “In Power-to-Liquid the holy grail is low-cost sustainable e-fuels,” says Boeltken. so lowering costs will help alternative fuels to get closer to the price of  traditional fuels.

“Everybody is talking about SAF [sustainable aviation fuel] and the decarbonization of hard-to- abate sector but there are not many plants on the ground,” says Boeltken. “We have them.”

Ineratec has raised money from government grants and investors that include  venture capital firms, the corporate venture arm of Japanese car maker Honda, French aviation firm Safran, French global energy company Engie and Münchmeyer Petersen & Co. (MPC) Group, a German family-owned, global group active in shipping, shipbuilding and industrial services and project development in the field of renewables. In January of this year it raised over $129 million in its Series B funding round, led by Piva Capital.

The German scale-up already has partnerships in place with energy companies across Europe and has opened 13 demonstration facilities. It has built a commercial-scale plant in Frankfurt -currently the largest of its kind in the world – which will, among other off-takes, supply sustainable aviation fuel directly to the city’s international airport. It has additionally signed an agreement to build a Power-to-Liquid plant in the port of Amsterdam with the goal of producing up to 35,000 tons of e-fuels per year. It has formed a public-private collaboration with Germany’s GIZ, an arm of the German government, to promote the production of green hydrogen in Chile, using wind power.

And, it is partnering with Switzerland’s Synhelion, a global pioneer in the field of sustainable solar fuels that was spun-out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in 2016 to decarbonize transportation.

Synhelion has developed a technology to produce next-generation synthetic fuels. At the core of the solution is a proprietary process that converts solar heat into syngas. This syngas is then liquefied via the Fischer-Tropsch process by a unit Synhelion bought from Ineratec. This way, Synhelion can produce clean solar fuels that offer an economically viable, efficient, and scalable substitute for fossil fuels that is fully compatible with existing global fuel infrastructure.

The latest partnership with Soler adds another feedstock into the mix.

“We have to look at alternative feedstocks to get the costs down,” says Boeltken. Ineratec’s Frankfurt plant will produce up to 2500 tons of e-fuel this year. The French plant it is building with Soler will produce up to 12,000 tons. “It is the next step in scaling-up,” he says.

The demand is there. The question is when companies like Ineratec will be able to meet it.

“The doubling of SAF production in 2023 was encouraging as is the expected tripling of production expected in 2024,” said a December 2023 statement by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “But even with that impressive growth, SAF as a portion of all renewable fuel production will only grow from 3% this year to 6% in 2024. This allocation limits SAF supply and keeps prices high. Aviation needs between 25% and 30% of renewable fuel production capacity for SAF. At those levels aviation will be on the trajectory needed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Until such levels are reached, we will continue missing huge opportunities to advance aviation’s decarbonization.”

The maritime and ground transport sectors are also struggling to source enough alternative green fuel at the right price point.



ChatGPT On iPhones: A Tipping Point For Mass Adoption?

Apple said June 10 that it plans to bring a more personalized version of artificial intelligence to its 2.2 billion device users—including striking a deal with ChatGPT-maker OpenAI. The new AI system, which it called “Apple Intelligence,” offered a preview to what many consider to be the holy grail of AI, a voice assistant empowered with enough personal user information to meaningfully help complete an array of tasks. Apple has partnered with OpenAI, and its ChatGPT, for some new AI functions, such as answering more complex queries or composing messages, capabilities that Apple’s AI can’t handle.

Apple emphasized that its approach to AI would be focused on protecting user privacy, with models running locally on devices and on its cloud servers, and powered by its chips. Cook described its method of training AI features on a user’s personal data without it leaving the device as “AI as only Apple can deliver it”.When an Apple query is handed to ChatGPT, information will pass to OpenAI, but Apple vowed it will ask the user’s permission each time. It also said OpenAI won’t be able to store the information or train its systems on the data.

Neither Apple nor OpenAI are paying each other to integrate ChatGPT into the iPhone, reported The Information. Instead, OpenAI hopes greater exposure on iPhones will help it sell a paid version of ChatGPT, which costs around $20 a month for individuals. Apple would take its 30% cut of these subscriptions as is customary for in-app purchases.

Sometime in the future, Apple hopes to strike revenue-sharing agreements with AI partners in which it gets a cut of the revenue generated from integrating their chatbots with the iPhone, according to Bloomberg, which first reported details of the deal.


Billionaires Mukesh Ambani And Sunil Mittal Take On Elon Musk In India’s Internet Space Race

A joint venture between Reliance Industries’ Jio Platforms and Luxembourg-based SES to provide gigabit fiber Internet has won approval from the Indian space regulator to operate satellites there.The three approvals issued to Orbit Connect India to provide satellite-based high-speed Internet access – come as companies from  to Elon Musk’s Starlink have been vying for the go-ahead to launch satellite communication services in the world’s most populous nation.

The authorizations, which had not been previously reported, were revealed this week by Reuters. They were granted in April and June from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre, known as IN-SPACe. These allow Orbit Connect to operate satellites above India, but further approvals are needed by the country’s department of telecoms to begin operations.

India’s biggest telecom companies, led by rival billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal, are both primed to launch satellite Internet services. Ambani is behind Reliance Industries, which is involved in Orbit Connect. Bharti Airtel’s joint venture with Eutelsat OneWeb, the Anglo-French satellite communications group, could start operating as early as June, reports the Financial Times.

Musk’s SpaceX, the owner of Starlink, has been trying to enter the country for more than three years, but has not won regulatory approvals and was rebuked in 2021 by local authorities for signing up customers without having the proper licenses.

Amazon, Vrio, To Launch Satellite Internet In South America

Amazon and telecommunications firm Vrio will jointly launch a satellite Internet service in seven South American countries, the two companies said on June 13, putting them in direct competition with Elon Musk’s Starlink, reports Reuters. Vrio, the U.S. firm that manages the Latin American branch of DirecTV as well as Sky Brasil, will offer the service to customers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.


Walmart Introduces Digital Shelf Labels To 2,300 Stores

After trialing digital shelf labels (DSL) at one U.S. location, Walmart announced the rollout of the new technology to an additional 2,300 stores across the country by 2026. Accelerating the digitization of their stores, the retailer stated DSL technology enables the company to increase productivity and reduce walking time, simplify stock replenishment, and enable faster order picking and fulfillment. Developed by the Vision Group, digital shelf labels allow Walmart to streamline the management for thousands of weekly pricing updates of over 120,000 products on shelves. With DSL, associates can manage price tags through an app, representing a significant operational shift in inventory, order fulfillment and customer interactions, ensuring an enhanced customer experience.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.