UK Makes $247M SAF Investment To Meet 2050 Net-Zero Targets

contrails in the UK
Credit: Peter Fox / Getty Images

LONDON—The UK has laid out its plan to become a net-zero society with grand designs on how to reduce the carbon impact of aviation.

The government’s Net Zero Strategy, published Oct. 19, outlines how the UK aims to deliver net-zero emissions by 2050, a commitment set in law in 2019. 

The document emerges as the UK prepares to host the United Nations Climate Change conference, COP26, in Glasgow at the end of October. 

The UK government claims that the country has already decarbonized more than any other country, but the strategy calls for a 47-59% reduction in transport emissions by 2035, compared with 1990.  

However, it accepts that aviation will be a challenge to decarbonize completely along with agriculture. 

As part of the effort, the government is looking to “kick-start” the commercialization of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) from household waste with the aim of being able to deliver 10% SAF by 2030. 

The government will also support the UK SAF industry with £180 million ($247 million) to help fund the creation of UK SAF plants. The document also calls for the creation of a so-called SAF clearing house, that will speed up the certification of SAF fuels. 

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the focus on SAF would “accelerate the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants in the UK and create thousands of green jobs across the country.” 

Despite challenges associated with the decarbonization of aviation, the document says it is consulting with industry for UK domestic aviation to reach net-zero 10 years earlier, in 2040. 

To deal with aviation carbon emissions, the document says it will encourage more operational efficiencies and make use of greenhouse gas removal methods “while influencing consumers to make more sustainable choices when flying,” but has not laid out how consumers will be influenced. 

The document also highlights the government’s ongoing investments in the greening of aviation through the Aerospace Technology Institute to support greener aircraft technology supporting work on Rolls-Royce’s next generation UltraFan jet engine and ZeroAvia’s hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system. Notably, the strategy makes no mention of advanced or urban air mobility and makes just a single mention of electric aircraft. 

Industry appears to have cautiously welcomed the strategy—particularly the emphasis on developing SAF—with the Sustainable Aviation collective of airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and air service navigation providers stating that the £180 million support for SAF plant development will play an “important part” in a making SAF use a reality. Although it notes SAF can only work if the supply and price mechanisms are in place. 

“A UK SAF mandate can also work but only if the supply exists and if fuels are affordable,” Sustainable Aviation collective chairman Adam Morton said. “We need the right policies, such as a price mechanism, to bridge the price gap between SAFs and fossil jet fuel, and for these to be announced as early as possible.”

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.