Bizav's Role In Wider Availability of SAF
With a customer community less sensitive to fuel price than the commercial airlines, business aviation is taking a leading role in stimulating early demand for emissions-reducing sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). At the same time, business aviation faces unique challenges in scaling up the availability and use of SAF.
Airlines, many with fleets of hundreds of aircraft, buy jet fuel by the millions of gallons under multi-year offtake agreements with suppliers, and the majority of that fuel is uploaded into aircraft at a few hundred major airports around the world.
The business aviation community, in contrast, ranges from an owner-pilot with a single aircraft, through flight departments with a handful of jets, to charter and fractional operators with tens—and only in rare cases hundreds—of aircraft.
Business aircraft fly to thousands of airports worldwide, some bigger but most smaller, where they refuel at fixed-base operations (FBO), some part of major networks but many independent, that are supported by key aviation fuel suppliers.
Given this demographic and geographic diversity, efforts by business aviation to unite the community behind the need for sustainability and for both industry action and government support to ramp up availability of SAF is taking on increasing importance.
The fact that not only is business aviation generally less sensitive to fuel price, but also that its customer base includes the leadership of major global corporations that have their own sustainability imperatives, is already becoming clear.
Signature Flight Support, the world’s biggest FBO chain with more than 200 locations, in April announced it had pumped 1 million gal. of SAF at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Continuous supply of the fuel was launched at SFO in December under a strategic partnership established in September by Signature, fractional operator NetJets and SAF producer Neste.
“I’d summarize our role as being a critical facilitator,” John-Angus Smith, Signature’s managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told the European Business Aviation Association’s virtual SAF Summit on April 20. “We’ve got a network of over 200 locations globally, so we’ve got a unique opportunity to make SAF physically available to customers in more locations.”
Barely 60 million gal. of SAF was produced in 2020, so SFO alone accounts for a significant portion of the uplift, including fuel being supplied to several airlines at the airport. A key reason is the tax incentive for SAF purchased at SFO provided by California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. But it helps that every NetJets aircraft visiting the airport is refueled with a 30% blend of SAF.
NetJets has committed initially to purchase up to 3 million gal of SAF at SFO, and Signature is now providing a consistent supply at a total of six locations. These include London Luton Airport in the UK, where operators can use SAF to reduce their carbon offset obligations under the country’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
While Finland’s Neste is working to increase its production of SAF from waste oils and fats to 515 million gal. annually by 2023, NetJets in February made a significant investment in WasteFuel, a startup which plans to produce SAF from municipal solid waste. The first 30 million gal./year plant is planned to be operational in Manila, Philippines, in 2025. NetJets has committed to purchase 100 million gal. of SAF from WasteFuel over 10 years and the companies plan to develop four more bio refineries in other locations.
Similar moves to expand the availability of SAF can be seen across business aviation. Since announcing a strategic partnership with Neste in January, fuel supplier AvFuel has begun rolling out SAF to its customer FBOs, including at Monterey and Truckee in California and Piedmont Triad International Airport in North Carolina. AvFuel is also supplying SAF to Textron Aviation for demonstration and delivery flights and to Bell—the first helicopter manufacturer to use SAF—for demo and training flights.
Air bp and Neste reached an agreement in August to offer an increased volume of SAF to airport customers, and the fuel supplier is now providing a 35% blend at Clermont Ferrand Auvergne Airport in France as well as London Biggin Hill, Bristol and Hawarden airports in the UK.
This level of activity is a good sign, but the supply of SAF remains limited and business aviation operates into three times as many airports as the airlines. Tapping into the sector’s willingness to pay a premium for low-carbon fuel requires a mechanism that enables customers to get emissions credits for fuel they buy but may never see.
Such a mechanism exists in the form of a chain of custody approach called book-and-claim. Book-and-claim is enabled by the fact that SAF blends are drop-in fuels that can be substituted for Jet-A. “In our view it is key to the adoption of SAF by our industry as the physical production infrastructure and supply are still at an early stage,” said Smith.
In addition to physical delivery, the indirect supply of SAF through the purchase of “virtual gallons” using the book-and-claim process is a critical channel to increasing the production, availability and affordability of the fuel. “We are making book-and-claim gallons available across the network in the next few months to fill the gap between physical supply and demand,” he said.
“Book-and-claim is envisioned to enable SAF delivery into the aviation enterprise the lowest cost with the lowest possible greenhouse-gas footprint, by enabling fuel to be delivered in closer proximity to its production,” says Steve Csonka, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative.
Book-and-claim is still in its infancy, but United Airlines is using the mechanism under its offtake agreement with World Energy to deliver SAF to Los Angeles International Airport. Business aviation has used book-and-claim to make SAF available for flights to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The aviation industry, business and commercial, is now working on a standardized approach to book-and-claim, Csonka says.
“Essentially book-and-claim enables an operator to purchase SAF in an area where it’s not yet available and still receive environmental benefits when fuel is dispensed elsewhere,” Smith said. “When SAF is manufactured, the sustainability attributes are documented and credits created. The SAF is then inserted locally into the supply chain, which is important because it reduces the logistics costs.
“Distant entities can then participate in the sustainable fuels market by purchasing SAF—or in reality virtual SAF—and the sustainability credits are then transferred to the buyer. Buyers of SAF can claim renewable fuel credits under schemes such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme,” he said.
“Book-and-claim fills the local availability gap and, in our view, will enable the expansion of the market,” Smith said. “Despite the virtual nature of the book-and-claim process, it’s still a physical reduction of CO2 because someone purchases the SAF. And that’s why it’s such an important tool for our industry.”