Aviation Industry Remains Focused On Sustainable Aviation Fuels

SAF has been available to all customers at Farnborough Airport since the beginning of July.
Credit: Farnborough Airport

As work continues to develop viable electric or hydrogen power plants for passenger aircraft, the industry’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions remain focused on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). 

SAF adoption is slow for two main, mutually reinforcing reasons. First, sustainable fuels, regardless of the feedstock and production process, are significantly more expensive than standard Jet A1. Second, high prices are depressing demand. But the price will not come down until production volume increases, which will only happen when demand rises. 

Breaking this cycle may require outside intervention to stimulate the market, such as mandates from regional or national governments. 

Some places have taken this step and others are considering it. Last month, the European Union (EU) announced a series of regulatory proposals under the Fit for 55 banner, which included a stepped SAF blending mandate. 

If approved, the legislation would require 2-5% of jet fuel consumption in the EU to be SAF by 2025. This would rise to 50% by 2040. A week later, the UK government’s Department for Transport launched a consultation on introducing a SAF mandate from 2025. A week later, the UK government’s Department for Transport launched a consultation on introducing a SAF mandate from 2025.

Business aviation, with users generally less sensitive to fuel price increases than passengers on commercial airlines, has tended to move faster. As a result, the sector will be ready to comply with mandates if and when they are enacted, insiders maintain. For instance, Farnborough Airport’s announcement in early July that it would be offering SAF to all customers was not an attempt to get ahead of UK or EU mandates. Rather, it was a response to growing demand, airport CEO Simon Geere tells The Weekly of Business Aviation.  

“We have had increasing inquiries requesting SAF over time,” Geere says. “The supply of SAF just isn’t there to be able to impose it. The question is, how do you stimulate investment in the production of SAF? And I think that’s where governments are spending more time looking at the incentives to get the producers to make the supply available, because that will bring down price.”

Farnborough’s SAF comes from Neste, via distributor World Fuel Supplies, in a 38.5%-61.5% blend with Jet A1. The SAF is produced in Finland from 100% renewable waste and raw materials residue and distilled in Rotterdam, Netherlands, before arriving in the UK. Carbon from this lengthy logistics chain is included in supplier calculations that claim use of the blend will reduce life-cycle emissions by up to 80% versus use of conventional fuel. 

Geere argues that, despite the distance the fuel has to travel, having SAF available on site is a better option than operating a book-and-claim system. In a book-and-claim, a customer would pay for SAF despite not being able to access it at that location, with the purchased sustainable fuel being pumped into another aircraft elsewhere, reducing overall aviation emissions even though that customer’s flight would use Jet A1. 

“Indirect use of SAF is not quite as compelling a case as direct consumption,” he says. “Having availability is absolutely key, so having production and refineries nearer to demand is important. I read in the media that Heathrow Airport is looking at SAF in quite a big way—Farnborough Airport is just down the road. Maybe that will create a critical mass for Farnborough to benefit from.”

Local production and availability exists in Spain, where Air bp has announced that NetJets Europe had become the first customer for International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC)-certified SAF. The company is manufacturing SAF from waste at its Castellon refinery and making it available to airports in that country. 

NetJets says it expects to take 325,000 gal. during the first year of availability. This is a significant amount of fuel, but nowhere near enough to tip the needle on the long-term investment decisions that will have to be taken if SAF production is to be increased sufficiently to reduce end-user costs.

“In the end, I expect SAF will have the same mechanisms as conventional jet fuel; will move in a global manner between different producing regions and different regions where it’s being consumed,” says Andreea Moyes, Air bp’s global sustainability director. “Mandates have an important role to play because they level the playing field. We think the approach that the EU is taking is supportive of developing more sustainable aviation in the future, and I was really happy to see that the proposal is quite ambitious. It has a big scope. It creates an environment where all airlines, not just the European airlines, or not just the airlines that fly inside of Europe, have to solve the problem.”