Velocys - Piloting the Future of Sustainable Aviation Fuel Technology

With insight from Velocys’ Director of HR and Administration, Heather Churchman, and our Senior Recruitment Manager, Mishu Ventura, we will uncover Velocys’ journey to decarbonizing the aviation sector and explain how NES Fircroft supported them in expanding their presence in the US market. 

With the world continuously fighting the battle to reach net zero, one sector in particular is experiencing radical change. The aviation industry significantly impacts climate change, with jet fuels and other aircraft-related emissions contributing to as much as 5% of global warming. Moreover, medium and long-haul flights account for 73% of all CO2 emissions.

To help combat this problem, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is undoubtedly our planet’s best chance to decarbonize the aviation sector. However, with the global demand for SAF forecasted to grow from 4bn liters in 2025 to 166bn liters in 2050, how can these numbers be achieved? 

Sustainable Solutions on a Global Scale

One company is pioneering the solution through their waste-to-fuel approach, developing their variation of the Fischer-Tropsch technology to allow global transportation and heavy goods companies to fly greener and more sustainably. Not only that, they’re giving the worldwide population the peace of mind of flying with a clear conscience, knowing their journeys are no longer detrimental to the planet.    

Who is this company at the forefront of change? The answer is Velocys. At the forefront of change, Velocys is a global organization with the long-term goal of decarbonizing the aviation sector and becoming the leading technology licensor provider for producing sustainable aviation fuel.

Who are Velocys?

In their own words, Velocys has been 'changing the way fuels are made' for the best part of two decades and are developing 'sustainable fuel technology for a better future.' With their roots stemming from the University of Oxford, under the name Oxford Catalyst, founded in 2004, the name Velocys came to fruition in 2006. 

Still fairly new to the renewable energy scene, Velocys delivers the technology capable of producing drop-in fuels with a negative carbon intensity from various bio-waste materials. 

“Our long-term strategy is to be the leading technology licensor provider for producing sustainable aviation fuel.”

Heather Churchman, Director of HR and Administration, Velocys

Innovative technologies for a greener future

Velocys' IP-protected and commercially proven technology is an optimized iteration of the infamous Fischer-Tropsch process from mid-1920s Germany. The Fischer-Tropsch process converts carbon monoxide and hydrogen, otherwise known as syngas, into liquid hydrocarbons. These liquid hydrogens, produced from various feedstocks, including coal, natural gas, and biomass, can be used for multiple liquid fuels, such as diesel and aviation fuel. 

Velocys' Fischer-Tropsch catalyst and reactor technology utilizes the biomass approach to help decarbonize the aviation sector and achieve global net zero-carbon aviation. This results in using waste from landfills, forest residue, wood chips, and households to be converted into biofuels such as sustainable aviation fuel to power aircraft. 

Their tech-driven solution provides SAF project developers, fuel producers, feedstock owners, and site owners with a broad range of services and end-to-end capabilities. These services and capabilities can be seen in the graphic below and ultimately involve supplying catalysts, reactors, and other engineering and manufacturing tools to support the development of global sustainable fuel projects.

Decarbonizing the aviation sector

Velocys has and continues to make its mark on the renewable energy industry as the tech innovators focused on decarbonizing the aviation sector. Over its 20-year journey, they have established relationships with some of the world's most prominent organizations. 

In 2021, Velocys began partnering with British Airways for the Altato project. The project has been backed by £27m, awarded to them by the UK Department of Transport's Advanced Fuels Fund competition in December 2022. Altato is expected to be completed in 2027 and will see a 78-acre site constructed in Immingham, UK. 

The project will produce 20 million gallons of SAF per year, preserving the need for 350,000 tons of CO2 per year. This will result in a 150% reduction of greenhouse gases that would otherwise be produced by conventional jet fuel. The amount of SAF from the Altato project will be enough to power over 1,000 flights from London to New York annually.

As well as their other UK-based E-Fuels project, supported by a £2.5 million investment from the UK Department of Transport, Velocys is also taking its commercially viable pathway to decarbonization across the pond.


“We're solving two problems. We're solving the problem of what we do with the landfill that we keep burying, and we're also solving the problem of enabling people to continue to fly, particularly long haul, with a clear conscience.”

Heather Churchman, Director of HR and Administration, Velocys

Velocys jets off to the US with the Bayou Fuels project

With a desire to expand into the US market, Velocys has begun to sow the seeds of its Bayou Fuels project. The Bayou Fuels project will generate 36 million gallons of negative-emission transportation fuels per year from a facility currently in development in Natchez, Mississippi. Bayou Fuels will combine biomass power, biogenic feedstock, and carbon capture and sequestration to save 1.3 million tons of CO2 annually.

Fueling the progress of the Bayou Fuels project, in November 2021, Velocys penciled in a 15-year offtake agreement with Southwest Airlines. At the same time, a 10-year MOU was established with the owners of British Airways, International Consolidated Airlines Group S.A (IAG). 

The agreement with Southwest Airlines will see an offtake of 219 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel, whilst the partnership with IAG and British Airways involves a purchase of 73 million gallons of SAF over the agreed term. 

Regarding talent, Velocys' day-to-day operations are supported by a plethora of innovative professionals in a broad range of roles across the UK and US. 

Velocys' Mississippi plant has been designed for a 100% renewable power supply and is optimized for maximum decarbonization. Their plant will produce SAF with a negative carbon intensity of -375g CO2e/MJ. The mitigation of these fuels is the equivalent of avoiding 1.1 million economy return flights between San Francisco and London annually.

Aside from the Bayou Fuels project, most recently, in 2023, Velocys completed its construction of a 52,000 sq ft reactor core assembly facility in Columbus, Ohio. The new facility is expected to produce around 12 reactors per year. It will be the home to Velocys' reactor core assembly and catalysis operations to meet customer orders until at least 2028.

Velocys' efforts in the US are also supported by a partnership with one of the world's leading engineering companies, Bechtel. Established in January 2023, the partnership will see Bechtel support Velocys by providing them with technical services such as front-end project engineering to develop their portfolio. The pair will also collaborate on developing an EPC for Velocys' two reference projects. 

Undoubtedly, Velocys is significantly impacting the world's efforts to achieve net zero by decarbonizing the aviation sector. Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of the brightest minds in the global renewable energy industry. 

The people fueling the solution

Velocys' team is split between 75% technical positions, including manufacturing, catalysis, and engineering. 25% of the team comprises core functions, such as finance, and professionals like Heather overseeing the HR and administration side of the business.

With a headcount of 45, Velocys is forecasted to expand its global team to 120-150 people over the next 18 months. The majority of this growth is expected in the US as they continue to progress with the Bayou Fuels project and increase the size of their project execution team in Houston. 

As is the case for many fast-growing companies in the renewable energy industry, finding the people to fill these future positions is far from easy for Velocys due to the global talent shortage. However, Velocys is not the type to compromise for individuals with experience and transferable skills alone. 

“We have a very exciting story to tell, and I think we do attract the right individuals. To join Velocys, you must have that entrepreneurial spirit. You need to have enthusiasm for making a difference. Certainly, when I’m talking to my HR peers outside of Velocys our messaging creates a sense of personal pride.”

Heather Churchman, Director of HR and Administration, Velocys

“I could be a HR director in any sector, but working for Velocys gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I'm putting something back into a sustainable future.”

Heather Churchman, Director of HR and Administration, Velocys

Velocys wants passionate people who want to be part of their exciting story and are on board with their mission of becoming the leading technology licensor provider for producing SAF. They also seek talent who have a genuine desire to help fuel the energy transition, reach net-zero targets, and decarbonize the aviation sector.

Of course, all their talent could find positions in any energy company worldwide, but what attracts them to Velocys is the opportunity to positively impact the planet's future sustainability. Heather is a guiding principle of the persona Velocys seeks to hire, whether in a technical or non-technical role.

Heading up the recruitment aspects of Velocys, Heather knows precisely the type of candidate the company needs in order to progress. So, when we partnered with Velocys, landing the top renewable energy talent was much more seamless. 

Landing the top renewable energy talent with NES Fircroft

We began our partnership with Velocys in 2021 to support their talent acquisition across the UK and the US. Being relatively new to the US market specifically and wanting to grow the presence of their engineering division in Houston, one of Velocys' significant challenges was coming up with a strategy for attracting US candidates.

Due to our expertise in supporting the engineering recruitment space in the renewables market and having an existing presence in Houston, we were the perfect partner for Velocys. We would soon become crucial to their success in finding the best talent from neighboring markets to fulfill their vacancies.

As mentioned, Velocys was working with a limited candidate pool due to the talent shortage within the industry and their unique technology requiring specific skills that are difficult to source. Thankfully, we're firmly in the driver's seat when it comes to finding this niche type of talent. 

Our senior recruitment manager, Mishu Ventura, would meet with Heather to understand the pain points Velocys were facing and the specific roles they were looking to fill. Velocys required people passionate about making a difference, with the moldable credentials to hit the ground running on their US-based projects.

We would translate this brief from Velocys to our discipline-specific engineering recruiters, who would go above and beyond to scope our extensive network and the wider market to find the specific talent Velocys required. Utilizing our full-length recruitment and consulting services, including our RPO - recruitment process outsourcing offering, we began creating a structured partnership approach with Velocys. 

Due to a limited talent pool and the required specific skill sets required, our consultants had to tap into industries such as chemicals, petrochemicals, oil and gas, and engage individuals with experience in downstream refining fuels. We went a step further in our recruitment methodology to fully unlock this passive talent. 

We're working in close collaboration with NES Fircroft across both the UK and the US, and so we have some active recruitment and selection and campaigns in place right now, and this will continue over the next 12 to 18 months."

Heather Churchman, Director of HR and Administration, Velocys

Tailored Solutions for Velocys' Hiring

We orchestrated salary surveys, market and competitor comparisons while also launching a dual-branded campaign on LinkedIn. These tactics brought the attention of Velocys to the forefront of the NESF network, allowing us to find ambitious professionals who were eager to be a part of Velocys' journey. Clearly, the talent was out there, and they were excited to be involved in something impactful and environmentally friendly.

Shortly after, we quickly became first-class passengers on Velocy's talent journey. Mishu and the team conducted weekly recruitment tag-up meetings with Heather and Velocys' hiring team to provide real-time feedback on the search. We set up initial screening interviews with the candidates we sourced; the first two were typically conducted remotely over Teams to understand whether the candidate was the right technical and cultural fit for Velocys. 

We also conducted reference checks during the recruitment process and maintained the candidate relationship until the offer stage. Heather would then take over from the offer stage, keeping us looped in on whether the candidate accepted the position. From here, we would continue checking in with Heather and the successful candidates to ensure their start date and onboarding went smoothly. 

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Crafted Partnerships, Exceptional Results

“Velocys want the very top talent of candidates from the energy industry. They want candidates who are flexible, moldable, can think on their feet and outside of the box and come from a very good tenure within the industry to join and help continue growing their company.”

Mishu Ventura, Senior Recruitment Manager, NES Fircroft

Since the partnership with Velocys began, we have helped place 17 professionals into their business, with the average placement taking 12 weeks. Considering the state of the economy and the market's talent shortage, we consider this an excellent achievement from our permanent recruitment specialists.

Discover some the vacancies we filled with Velocys below:

  • Process & Systems Engineer
  • Commercial Director
  • Business Development Director 
  • Process Engineering Manager
  • VP of Engineering
  • Control Systems Engineer
  • Office Administrator 


What does the future hold for Velocys and NES Fircroft?

One of the biggest reasons we chose to partner with Velocys was that we believe in their mission of providing technology to produce sustainable aviation fuel. We're fully behind their aims to decarbonize the aviation sector and believe they're well on their way to achieving this goal. 

Having supported Velocys over the past two years, we hope this is just the start of our partnership. Looking ahead, we hope to continue building their global talent roster and help them land the industry innovators that can bring future success to their organization.

Velocys is one of the major energy companies awaiting credits from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), an act that could significantly benefit the development of their Bayou Fuels project. We've got our finger on the pulse of the US renewable market and predict the IRA will drive innovation within the energy industry. However, we also forecast it will create an urgent need for renewable energy experts, of which there is a shortage. 

“Velocys is going to be one of the top companies we'll see come through and succeed. I think they're going to add a lot of value to the market, and NESF is ready to accompany their journey and partner with them all the way to find the people who will drive their projects forward."

Mishu Ventura, Senior Recruitment Manager, NES Fircroft

Looking to build your renewable energy talent roster?

With a cumulative experience of more than 90 years, we specialize in providing long-term staffing solutions to the global energy sector. Our talent acquisition services have facilitated connections between major energy corporations and highly sought-after professionals worldwide. As a leading recruitment partner within the global energy industry, our expertise is tailored to delivering comprehensive support to the North American market. 

If you're seeking to enhance your renewable energy talent roster with permanent hires, look no further. Contact us today, and let us navigate you through the talent storm.

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