Sustainable Aviation Fuel and It’s Future in the Aviation Industry

In 1903, the first gasoline-powered aircraft was created and flown by the Orville brothers. Years later, the aviation industry saw the introduction of commercial airlines and other aviation sectors. Little did the world know that the aviation industry would be one of the main causes of climate change and the depletion of natural resources. In 2019 alone, all flights worldwide emitted 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the environment. At the moment, aviation contributes 2.5% of the global CO2 emissions, which is quite a significant number. After much deliberation on maintaining aviation while reducing the carbon footprint, the idea of sustainable aviation fuel was born.

What Is Sustainable Aviation Fuel or SAF?

Sustainable Aviation fuel or bio-jet-fuel is one of the best alternatives of jet fuel that can effectively power aircraft while significantly reducing the carbon footprint. According to the International Air Transport Association, SAF is the future of aviation. However, due to the expensiveness of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, airline companies are mixing bio-jet fuel with conventional jet fuel to minimise environmental impact while maintaining operation cost. The blend of bio-jet fuel and conventional jet fuel is referred to as drop-in fuel. In 2008, the first blend got used to power a Virgin Atlantic aircraft. Since then, the aviation industry has seen a drastic increase in flights using drop-in fuel.

In fact, in December 2011, eight companies were awarded $7.7 million by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA to develop drop-in fuel. The companies were to focus on organic matters, sugars, alcohols, and biomass as feedstock. After a successful campaign, the aviation industry used 0.1% SAF in 2019, with five airports having regular biofuel supply. The same year, Virgin Atlantic flights covered 1 million kilometres and above with bio-jet-fuel. Virgin Atlantic’s aviation biofuel was supplied by Gevo, a company that produces alcohol-to-jet fuel.

Is SAF The Future of Aviation?

According to research and analysis, sustainable aviation fuel or aviation biofuel is the future of air travel. That’s because SAF can reduce the aviation carbon footprint by a whopping 80% of the fuel’s lifecycle. However, the percentage depends on the feedstocks being used to produce the biofuel. Furthermore, bio-jet-fuel can help increase the lifespan of older aircraft, thus reducing such aeroplanes’ replacement and maintenance costs. That is why nearly all airlines are coming up with ways
to accommodate bio-jet-fuel.

Despite the high prices of SAF, the fuel seems to have captured the attention of different aviation companies. That is because for an aeroplane to use bio-jet fuel, it does not need to undergo any structural, technical, or operational changes. As a result, so long as the fuel is certified, it can be fed to planes and used to efficiently power engines. To further prove the future of sustainable aviation fuel, IATA aims at halving the net CO2 emissions by 2050.

Why Is SAF Marketed as Sustainable?

So many names can get used in place of SAF. However, IATA insists on using the name sustainable aviation fuel. That is a way of making sure companies producing SAF are using the correct production processes and methods. For the fuel to be sustainable, a company must refrain from using techniques that deplete natural resources such as forests and rivers. Such processes may end up causing environmental disasters such as water pollution and deforestation. The certified SAF is produced using feedstocks such as solid biomass, oil extracted from algae, jatropha, and tallows, among other plant sources. That is why before any aviation biofuel is distributed for private and commercial use, it must be certified. The bio-jet-fuel must adhere to different regulations, but the main advantage is that such companies qualify to be exempted from obligations associated with carbon compliance.

Despite multiple hurdles, the use of sustainable aviation fuel continues to grow drastically. That is because different aviation sectors believe bio-jet-fuel will help protect the environment and increase the efficiency of aviation operations. But then, the parties involved are stringent to make sure only sustainable feedstocks are used to create bio-jet-fuel. That is to avoid CO2 emissions while creating other environmental problems. Since the launch of sustainable aviation fuel, many companies like Neste have taken on producing certified SAF. As a result, its production rate has been increasing every year.
Thanks to Neste and other SAF producing companies, future projections show that SAF production will grow to 75 billion litres by 2040. However, the price of bio-jet-fuel is still proving to be the biggest hindrance to the growth of SAF. But then, research is underway to help increase the production of sustainable aviation fuel while reducing the cost to make it affordable compared to conventional jet fuel. After all, SAF is the only option the aviation industry has to go green.