The Advancements in Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs)
28 October 2023| By Just Aviation Team
In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, the business aviation industry is no exception. The growth of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) is a testament to the industry’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. As business aviation adapts to this eco-conscious approach, Just Aviation is dedicated to helping you make the transition to sustainable aviation fuels, ensuring a more environmentally friendly and compliant journey.
The business aviation industry has been under increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint and transition towards more sustainable practices. While alternative technologies such as hydrogen and electric propulsion are being explored, sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) have emerged as a vital tool in the business aviation sector’s quest to achieve carbon neutrality. SAFs offer several advantages due to their superior energy density and compatibility with existing technologies and infrastructure, making them a key player in the industry’s path to sustainability.
SAFs, short for sustainable aviation fuels, are hydrocarbon-based jet fuels derived from sustainable feedstocks. These feedstocks encompass a variety of sources, including biomass, municipal solid waste, used cooking oil, and even captured carbon dioxide and renewable hydrogen. The production processes using these feedstocks result in a substantial reduction in carbon emissions compared to conventional fossil-based jet fuels.
Passenger Pressure Driving SAF Production
One of the primary driving forces behind the increasing production of SAFs is the pressure from environmentally conscious passengers. Today, travelers are not only concerned about reaching their destinations but also about the environmental impact of their journeys. This phenomenon is often referred to as “flight shaming,” where climate activists highlight the carbon footprint of air travel, urging individuals to consider the environmental consequences of their flights. As a result, airlines are under mounting pressure to adopt more sustainable practices to align with the values and expectations of their passengers.
Furthermore, businesses are also seeking to decarbonize their operations, and sustainable business aviation provides a straightforward way for companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Many businesses have committed to achieving “net-zero” emissions and are actively exploring sustainable flying options.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) Leading the Way
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) plays a pivotal role in driving the adoption of SAFs. In 2022, IATA endorsed a resolution with the goal of making the global air transport industry carbon-neutral by 2050. IATA’s report highlights that sustainable aviation fuels could contribute up to 65% of the emissions reduction required for the aviation industry to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In comparison, infrastructure and operational efficiencies are expected to contribute just 3% to this reduction. This underscores the critical role of SAFs in the aviation industry’s journey towards carbon neutrality.
Moreover, SAFs offer benefits beyond carbon emissions reduction. They enhance fuel security by reducing dependence on traditional oil and gas supply chains. Additionally, SAFs minimize the non-CO2-based environmental impacts of jet fuel, such as particulate matter emissions and contrails.
Legislation as a Driving Force
Major economies worldwide have set ambitious targets for the adoption of SAFs. The United States, for instance, has established targets of 3 billion gallons per year of domestic SAF production by 2030 and an astonishing 35 billion gallons per year by 2050, accounting for 100% of projected fuel of aeroplane use. The United Kingdom is aiming for 10% by 2030 and an impressive 75% by 2050, while the European Union has voted in favor of 6% sustainable fuels in 2030 and 70% in 2050. These targets are backed by government incentives to encourage airlines to adopt SAFs, which vary significantly from region to region.
For example, the United States has introduced a new set of tax credits for SAF production under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), incentivizing companies to produce and utilize SAFs. In contrast, Europe is considering non-compliance penalties for airlines failing to adopt SAFs by specific deadlines. The Asia-Pacific region is also recognizing the need for government legislation and incentives to promote SAF adoption. As a result, it is increasingly imperative for airlines to source and use more SAFs. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in missed benefits or significant penalties.
Secure Feedstocks and Technology
One of the reasons for the growth of SAF production is the availability of secure feedstocks and advanced technology. Current approved SAF pathways enable airlines to blend fossil-derived fuel of aeroplanes with renewables, referred to as “drop-ins.” These drop-in fuels are compatible with existing fuel infrastructure and engines, offering a viable alternative to completely replacing fossil-based jet fuels. Several pathways facilitate this, such as Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA), Fischer-Tropsch (FT), Alcohol-to-Jet (AtJ), and innovative technologies like Virent’s Bioforming® S2A.
In particular, FT technology has gained prominence as it allows for the production of SAFs from a wide range of feedstock sources, offering flexibility and efficiency. Collaborations between companies like Repsol and Aramco have led to the establishment of synthetic fuel plants that utilize green hydrogen and CO2 as raw materials, further reducing the carbon footprint.
Today, certified SAF blending limits ensure that up to 50% of commercial aviation fuel can come from renewable feedstocks, ensuring compatibility with existing engine technology. However, technology has already proven the feasibility of 100% drop-in SAFs, paving the way for the aviation industry to operate without fossil fuels. Recent milestone flights, such as those by Emirates and United, have successfully utilized 100% sustainable fuel, demonstrating the readiness of this technology.
Collaboration for a Sustainable Future
Collaboration is a significant driver for the growth of SAF production. Airlines, recognizing the increasing demand for SAFs, are making investments in SAF developers. some Airlines, for instance, has established a $100 million fund focused on SAF technology. Such initiatives demonstrate the industry’s commitment to securing a sustainable future.
Furthermore, technology partnerships are accelerating SAF adoption. Collaborative efforts between industry leaders have led to the development of efficient SAF production methods.
The surge in sustainable aviation fuels represents a positive stride in business aviation’s journey towards a greener future. Just Aviation stands ready to provide you with the guidance and resources needed to integrate SAFs into your business aviation operations, ensuring that your flights not only meet environmental standards but set a higher bar for sustainability in Business Aviation.