If sustainable alternative jet fuels (SAJFs) are to help the business-aviation industry to meet the carbon-reduction goals it has collectively set for itself, plenty of work needs to be done.

During the SAJF Coalition’s conference – Fueling the Future – held this past Saturday at TAG Farnborough airport, a number of key industry figures spoke about different aspects of the sustainable fuel challenge. ShowNews was listening in.

Brad Nolen​, VP marketing and product strategy, Bombardier

I have some good news: we’re actually ahead of where we thought we would be back in 2009. But there’s some bad news that comes with this. One of the reasons why we’re ahead is we’re seeing lower utilization than we expected, and we’re delivering less aircraft today than would have been anticipated in 2009. Of course, that’s not how we want to reduce CO2 emissions: we want to deliver more aircraft, and we want to fly our aircraft more often.

But the good news is there have been contributions, particularly from the technology corner. The GPS technology that’s come on board means that we’re doing more direct travel as opposed to waypoints travel. But really the biggest contributor outside of the lower deliveries and utilization has been through the introduction of new, more efficient aircraft. Those airplanes will make a difference. The challenge that we have is that an airplane’s useful life can be 30 to 40 years typically, and while that’s good in terms of value retention, it means that the brand new, more efficient airplanes that we’re delivering will take many, many years before they’re making up a [significant] portion of the fleet.

So what we’re looking for is actually a new technology. Imagine a new engine that was more efficient that could be plugged onto and be backwards compatible all 20,000 aircraft that are out there flying today. That’s the technology that we need to make a difference. And that actually exists. That’s SAJF, and that’s what we’re excited about today.

Keith Sawyer, Manager of alternative fuels, Avfuel Corporation

There are the five pathways [certified to produce SAJF], and they’re all very complex chemistry, but basically they’re each taking alcohol atoms and converting them to carbon atoms. There’s two or three more in the queue now, and I would anticipate over the next year we’ll have seven pathways approved, including one that will take a bio diesel and move it up to a renewable diesel or renewable jet. So there’s a lot going on.

As people become more informed about the capability and the sustainable value of these SAJFs, we are seeing more and more inquiries – not only from corporate flight departments, but from big companies that have social responsibility metrics in their annual reports. Starbucks, for example, in the United States, is one company that’s illustrative of that. And we have airports that are owned and operated by municipalities who are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint as part of their lease within their community. Sweden, France and Spain have adopted biojet or SAJF mandates for their countries; and the Netherlands government has directed military organizations to adopt SAJF as their fuel.

In our view, it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s “when.”

Charles Etter, â€‹Staff scientist and technical fellow, Gulfstream environmental and regulatory affairs division

Globally, business aviation is [responsible for] around 2% of all of aviation’s fuel burn – or 0.4% of all CO2 emissions. How do we address this? I’ve had conversations with some [who say], “Well maybe we should sit back and wait. Let’s wait for the fuel price of SAJF to be in parity with Jet A. let’s wait for it to be globally available.” That doesn’t sound like leadership. This coalition is taking that leadership. We’re not waiting.

I think the timing is right. [At present,] SAJF better suits business aviation than the commercial side of the industry. Business aviation is less sensitive to modest increases in fuel prices. SAJF provides an opportunity for the aviation department: the parent company probably has some sustainability goals, and while operating on SAJF might cost a little bit more in the beginning, you’ve offset carbon emissions for your parent company.

So we understand it’s going to cost a little bit more, we understand it’s going to take some time. I think we’re kind of pushing this up the mountain: if we can get it over the mountain, maybe we can roll it down to 2050 and really meet those requirements.

Juergen Wiese​, Chairman, EBAA

Speaking from the operator side – for those who will actually pick up the bill – I think the demand is actually there, even at the [3x more expensive than Jet A-1] price ratio. We’re probably not talking about the smaller operator who operates at the edge of the margin, flying a 30-year-old model for air ambulance operations: but there are certainly larger corporations and larger fleet operators who will take the lead and who are ready to take that hit to start the process. Just sitting there and waiting until the price drops will not work. We have to bring up the demand, and then I think there will be – and there are – certain operators who really have that demand out of corporate social responsibility or other reasons – and that will hopefully then bring the price down.

Guy Sawyer, Senior director, global physical operations, World Fuel Services aviation division

If we’ve got to blend jet with the sustainable element very close to the airport, that’s not going to be sustainable in future from an operational perspective. The ideal target must be fuel that is entering the supply chain is the blended product, because what we can’t afford to be doing is generating blending facilities further down the supply chain, even on airports. Of course it can be done, and there are moments sometimes that’s what has to be done. We have blended the products off-site, and that takes time and introduces supply-chain delay, but the key is going to be repeatability. The fuel we’ve provided today [for the jets departing Farnborough for EBACE] we’ve blended to just under 17%: as it happens, both the conventional jet fuel and the SAJF were very close in densities, so the blending process was mostly straightforward – but there’s a delay to test it, so the further back on the supply chain that we can conduct this activity, the better. Looking forward to 2050, it simply won’t be a sustainable supply chain if we’re not receiving it into the supply chain already blended.

Marcelo de Freitas​, Product development engineer, Embraer

One important point for the sustainability aspect is the social side. Who is the producer [of the feedstocks]? How can we help improve the producer? For example, for small farmers and plot holders, if you can improve [things for] the producers in the chain, you are improving not only the capacity to have sustainable feedstock, but helping people to have opportunities to participate in the chain, educating them, informing them about the requirements it’s necessary to have to be a producer and a supplier of the feedstocks. This is work that does need to be done by the industry: it’s an education process.

There are some feedstocks that we can add as a rotation crop, or a winter crop. For example, we are studying the introduction of Carinata in Brazil, and [investigating] the emission reduction that we can have by using Carinata oil as a feedstock. If you can produce a green jet fuel, and if at the same time you are using green diesel, then you are reducing your CO2 emission. It’s a chain. We can improve the level of emission reduction all the time.

These initiatives will make a basket of possible solutions – and for each country, for each region, we may have one best solution, or more than one best solution. The answer is to really analyse what works best for each place. There is no one single solution – no one-size-fits-all. We need to work very hard.

Tom Parsons, Biojet commercial development manager, AirBP

There are sustainability certification schemes that go in and audit the full supply chain, and they follow the requirements of national mandates to only bring into the supply chain those feedstocks that are suitable under that system. In practice, what that means is there are people out in the field working with the farmers, ensuring that everything is done to right standards, and that’s audited on an annual basis. And then that traceability through the supply chain is passed through in the certificates that get transferred as that feedstock becomes fuel, and goes to customers and then is surrendered to the authorities at the end, to prove that everything is as it should be.

If the industry as a whole is to achieve [the target] of 50% level of reduction of emissions in 2050 compared to 2005, estimates put the figure of SAJF needed across the system at around 30%. It could be even higher – it depends on the contribution of all the different measures that can support that. But at a 30% level globally, it’s going to have to be that the supply chain is ubiquitous – that there’s SAJF coming in pretty much everywhere. As it stands today, the maximum blending ratio is 50%, so when you look on a global picture, that’s going to mean that pretty much every major hub would need to be at 50% to allow for those more remote fields and airports where it’s harder to supply.