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29 September 2022
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has been defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a fuel which achieves net greenhouse gas emission reductions on a life-cycle basis. SAF is made by converting renewable feedstock to fuel molecules that are identical to conventional jet fuel, which is called Jet A. The catalytic conversions are very similar to those that are already used in conventional refineries, but while crude oil used for producing conventional fuel is uniform, the feedstock used in bio-refineries can be very diverse.
Energy-dense liquid fuels such as SAF are currently the only available option for long-haul flights, the decarbonization of which is inevitable to make an impact. The realization of the targeted volumes and associated capacity scale-up is impacted by four important factors.
Advantages of SAF:
Many airplanes that are flying today will likely still be flying in 2030, and airplanes sold today will most likely be flying in 2050. This means the sustainable aviation fuel produced must be absolutely identical from a molecular perspective to the Jet A fuel that these airplanes use today, so that the current fleet can use it safely.
Also, an increased backing will be required for new conversion pathways to convert sustainable feedstock beyond just waste oils and fats, such as Alcohol-to-Jet or Power-to-Liquids. Pioneer facilities are likely to be associated with higher costs and risks. Industry and policy makers will need to work together to get adequate de-risking mechanisms in place to demonstrate these new technologies at scale. A flexible SAF strategy may prove useful in dealing with the challenges in sustainable biomass mobilization.
Finally, a sound, scientifically grounded sustainability framework is essential to directing this change. This framework should provide long-term stability for a solid investment climate, while leaving room for improvement as the thinking on sustainable practices evolves. Furthermore, systems steering towards sustainable outcomes such as greenhouse gas emission thresholds will provide clarity and enable policy flexibility.
For more information and research about SAF and its importance to aviation, please visit our consulting services page or contact Jorge.Abando@aviaproconsulting.com.