Illinois Uniquely Positioned for SAF Production

Haley Bickelhaupt

Apr 24, 2024  |  ICGA |  Ethanol

Illinois is uniquely positioned to lead the world in decarbonizing the aviation sector.


The Land of Lincoln is home to the feedstock, geology, production capability, airlines, and tax credits for a vertically integrated system. The sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry is still in its infancy, but experts estimate SAF could generate $2,926MM economic impact in the state. 


“From production and refining to retail, everything you need is here. We are the nation's number one producer of soybeans, number two producer of corn. We’re responsible for 90 percent of the US oilseed production," Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said in his keynote speech at a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Conference in March.  


With the ability to reduce carbon emissions by 94% compared to petroleum jet fuel, the greener fuel would advance Illinois sustainability initiatives and boost the state economy.


“The shift to SAF will no doubt plays an important role in Illinois’ long-term climate goals, all while promoting innovation and creating jobs for our state,” Governor Pritzker said in a press release. 


SAF production starts with the feedstock. Although products like cooking oil can be used to create SAF, Illinois has the potential to use an abundantly homegrown feedstock, corn, to fuel flights.  


Agriculture contributes more than $51.1 billion annually to Illinois’s economy. Ranked second in corn production, Illinois harvested 2.28 billion bushels of corn in 2022. Annually over 650 million bushels of corn in Illinois create 1.84 billion gallons of ethanol. The renewable fuel then is used to create a fluid molecularly identical to petroleum jet fuel.  


The Illinois Renewable Fuels Association reports the annual impact of Illinois corn in the Illinois ethanol industry is $6.2 billion. This impact would only grow with the addition of SAF.  


National Corn Growers Association Lead Economist Krista Swanson said she is confident corn farmers can meet the demand SAF would bring to the corn market.  


In her presentation at the Leading the Way: Sustainable Aviation Fuel Conference, Swanson said United States corn farmers are expected to grow an extra one billion bushel of corn in 2030 on the same number of acres. The Illinois Renewable Fuels Association reports SAF production could increase Illinois ethanol demand by 480 million gallons, meeting one-fifth of the Biden Administration’s SAF climate goals for 2030.  


Not only does Illinois have the fields to fly planes, but the pore space too. With unique geology in the Illinois Basin, the state is the ideal location for carbon capture and sequestration (CSS), a process that lowers the carbon intensity score of corn-based ethanol and allows it to qualify for state and federal tax credits. Of the thirteen ethanol plants in Illinois, eleven sit near or on top of pore space that could be used to sequester carbon and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  


Tax credits provide incentives that make Illinois rich for SAF investment. In July, the state enacted the first $1.50 per gallon SAF purchaser credit. The state credit complements a $1.25 Inflation Reduction Act producer tax credits if SAF meets a 50% reduction in GHG emissions.  


Home to O’Hare and Midway International Airports and the Chicago Rockford International Airport- one of the fast-growing cargo airports in the United States- Illinois’s airport hub is a major piece of the big picture.  


A runway with opportunity ahead, key stakeholders hosted an inaugural Sustainable Aviation Fuel Conference in March. Governor Pritzker keynoted the event and stakeholders in agriculture, manufacturing, policy, and SAF production discussed the industry’s future. President and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association Mark Denzler said the conference addresses significant value production could bring the state.   


 “Sustainable aviation fuel could grow into the largest new market for U.S. and Illinois manufacturers have the opportunity to be at the forefront, creating jobs and taking the lead in efforts to reduce global carbon emissions,” said Denzler in a press release for the event.