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An Overview of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the EU, UK, and the USA

Sustainable Aviation Fuel or SAF is an alternative to the traditional jet fuel, similar to the replacement of CNG to petrol or diesel. It is produced from sustainable feedstock such as used cooking oil and solid waste from houses and factories while still having a similar chemical structure to the traditional jet fuel. It is believed that SAF produces nearly 80% less carbon emissions compared to the jet fuels, depending on the feedstock used in its production.

Below, we outline major sustainable aviation fuel developments, policies, and frameworks in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

SAF In the European Union

In July 2021, the European Commission proposed a package of measures to make the EU’s climate, energy, land use, transport, and taxation policies compatible with the bloc’s objective of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels – this package is known as the Fit for 55 package.

As part of this wide-ranging fit for 55 package, the Commission has proposed the ReFuelEU Aviation initiative which would, on one hand, require fuel produces and suppliers to supply an increasing share of sustainable aviation fuels at EU airports and, on the other, guarantee the continued functioning of a competitive aviation market by ensuring a level playing field across the EU transport market in terms of aviation fuel.

Many airlines in the EU have started to offer passengers the option to purchase or contribute to SAF as part of carbon offsetting programme associated with their flight. Click on image for a link to Lufthansa’s scheme.

Under the Commission proposal, fuel suppliers will have to ensure that “aviation fuel made available to aircraft operators at each Union airport contains a minimum share of sustainable aviation fuel, including a minimum share of synthetic aviation fuel […and] where an aviation fuel supplier fails to supply the minimum shares […] for a given reporting period, it shall at least complement that shortfall in the subsequent reporting period.” (Article 4).

As for EU airports, they will be required to “all take necessary measures to facilitate the access of aircraft operators to aviation fuels containing shares of sustainable aviation fuels […]and, shall provide the infrastructure necessary for the delivery, storage and uplifting of such fuels.” (Article 6).

Moreover, in a bid to overcome tankering, which is defined by EUROCONTROL as “a practice whereby an aircraft carries more fuel than required for its flight in order to reduce or avoid refuelling at the destination airport”, aircraft operators at a given EU airport will be required to uplift 90% of their yearly aviation fuel from the EU (Article 5).

As of March 2022, the Commission’s ReFuelEU proposal has been referred to the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism, among others, and has already been subject to impact assessments, consultations, and draft reports.

According to the Parliament, stakeholders have varying views on the ReFuelEU proposal, with airlines, airports, and fuel producers showing general support for the proposal and its objectives, but each objected to technical aspects of the initiative, such as the application of Article 6 where no SAF is available at a given airport, SAF production from food and feed crops, and compliance concerns.

SAF In the United Kingdom

Jet Zero Council (JZC) introduced by the government of the United Kingdom is a partnership between the government and industry with the main aim to deliver zero emission transatlantic flights and innovate new ways to cut aviation emissions by 2050. To achieve this, the council has two main delivery groups- Sustainable Aviation Fuel and Zero Emission Flights. Both these delivery groups work closely with the government and the industries on achieving zero emissions by 2050.

Aviation’s overall climate impact is increasing. However, the sector’s overall share of global emissions is largely stagnant.

The Sustainable Aviation Fuels Mandate- Summary of Consultation Response was published by the Department for Transport of the UK in March 2022. The report had a total of 79 responses to the government’s policies and queries. The participants included an array of stakeholders from airlines, airports, consultancies, fuel producers, fuel technology providers, government bodies, individuals, NGOs, OEMs, and trade associations. The Consultation was divided into six broad sections-

  1. A greenhouse gas emissions scheme to reduce the carbon intensity of jet fuel.
  2. Fuel eligibility and sustainability criteria
  3. Overarching trajectory
  4. Interaction with other domestic and international policy
  5. Delivering SAF to the market
  6. Scheme, particularities, reporting and verification

Throughout the Consultation, respondents were asked for their comments, concerns, and opinions on a wide range of SAF-related issues. Such as, for example, the potential interactions between a UK and international SAF mandates, the consequences of such a mandate, SAF production, tankering, and the development of a UK SAF market.

Although most respondents agreed with the government’s proposals, NGOs, however, firmly suggested to the government the ‘immediate need for the aviation sector to reduce carbon emissions and that an earlier start date will ensure production plants are supported more urgently. Conversely, some airlines disagreed with the timeline proposal and cited various concerns ranging from the currently high cost of UK SAF supply and the potential competitive distortions associated with the domestic mandate. The fuel producers and fuel technology representatives stated their general openness to working with the government on SAF but stated the importance of adequate funding and government support.

As part of the Consultation, the government also sought opinions and suggestions on tackling tankering, which remains a major obstacle to making SAF and SAF mandates successful. To overcome this challenge, many respondents suggested that the UK’s domestic mandate should align with the EU’s provisions, but the respondents also highlighted that airlines often have legitimate reasons to tanker fuel, indicating that a full tankering ban would not be desirable.

SAF In the United States

The American government, working alongside aircraft manufacturers, airlines, fuel producers and NGOs, similar to the UK government, has pledged to make airlines in their country fully carbon neutral by 2050.

Airports are complex operations and airport operators are key sustainable aviation fuel stakeholders. Learn more about airport with Strategic Airport Planning by Mike Brown (Click on the image for a link).

In September 2021, The White House released a statement stating that a SAF tax credit would be included as a part of their Build Back Better Agenda. This credit would help cut costs and rapidly increase the scale production of sustainable aviation fuels. In this statement, the American government will concentrate on two main ways to tackle the issue of aviation emissions. The first is by funding new and ongoing opportunities on the production as well as development of SAF and the second is by increasing its investment in research and development (R&D) in new technology to achieve at least a 30% reduction in carbon emissions.

The main attraction of the statement was the introduction of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge. The primary aim of the challenge is to reduce environmental impacts, increase energy independence, and create jobs in agriculture, forestry, and infrastructure. The parties involved in the Grand Challenge main obstacles are to reduce costs, enhance sustainability, as well as increase the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel. The parties must develop innovative solutions and technologies and a policy framework for the government to get closer to their aim. The parties are expected to set up a joint executive level team to develop a framework to implement the MoU (Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge). Alongside the framework, they must provide a roadmap strategy within six months of signing the MoU.  

In Sum…

Sustainable Aviation Fuel is a potentially desirable replacement of traditional jet fuel as it emits nearly 80% less carbon emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel. Many developed countries have started funding and are providing grants to encourage SAF production: this can be seen as a necessary step moving towards achieving zero carbon emissions in the aviation sector. As more and more airlines start replacing SAF with traditional jet fuels, the production of SAF will increase which in return would make SAF more economically feasible.

References-

  1. BP (2021). What is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and why is it important? | News and views. [online] Air bp. Available at: https://www.bp.com/en/global/air-bp/news-and-views/views/what-is-sustainable-aviation-fuel-saf-and-why-is-it-important.html.
  2. GOV.UK. (2020). Mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuels in the UK. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/mandating-the-use-of-sustainable-aviation-fuels-in-the-uk.
  3. The White House (2021). FACT SHEET: Biden Administration Advances the Future of Sustainable Fuels in American Aviation. [online] The White House. Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/09/fact-sheet-biden-administration-advances-the-future-of-sustainable-fuels-in-american-aviation/.
  4. Have your say. (n.d.). Initiative. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12303-Sustainable-aviation-fuels-ReFuelEU-Aviation_en.
  5. Walfisz, J. (2021). What are sustainable aviation fuels and how do they reduce emissions? [online] euronews. Available at: https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/11/14/what-are-sustainable-aviation-fuels-and-could-they-change-the-future-of-flying [Accessed 19 Apr. 2022].
  6. www.europarl.europa.eu. (2022). ReFuelEU Aviation initiative: Sustainable aviation fuels and the fit for 55 package | Think Tank | European Parliament. [online] Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document/EPRS_BRI(2022)698900 [Accessed 19 Apr. 2022].
  7. Department of Transport (2022). Jet zero: our strategy for net zero aviation. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/achieving-net-zero-aviation-by-2050.

Images:

  1. Julian Herzog (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rolls-Royce_Trent_XWB_on_Airbus_A350-941_F-WWCF_MSN002_ILA_Berlin_2016_10.jpg), https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode
  2. Paul Schmid (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lufthansa_Airbus_A320neo.jpg), https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode
  3. Our World in Data 
  4. Joe Ravi (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washington_Dulles_International_Airport_at_Night.jpg), „Washington Dulles International Airport at Night“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode

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