What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and How it Reduce Carbon Emissions

sustainable-aviation-fuel

Introduction – Sustainable Aviatioin Fuel and its Environmental Impact

The aviation industry is one of the major contributors to global carbon emissions, accounting for about 2.5% of the total CO2 emissions from human activities. As the demand for air travel continues to grow, so does the need for more sustainable solutions to reduce the environmental impact of flying.

One of the most promising ways to achieve this goal is by using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which is a type of alternative fuel that can be produced from renewable sources such as biomass, waste, or synthetic gases. SAF can significantly lower the carbon footprint of aviation, as well as improve air quality and reduce noise pollutionIn this article we wil discuss about what SAF is, how it is produced, what are its benefits and challenges, and how you can support its use and development.

sustainable aviation fuel

What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and its Importance

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a type of alternative fuel that can be produced from renewable sources such as biomass, waste, or synthetic gases. SAF can be blended with conventional jet fuel and used in existing aircraft engines without any modifications. SAF can also be referred to as biofuel, biojet, or renewable jet fuel.

The aviation industry is one of the major contributors to global carbon emissions, As the demand for air travel continues to grow, so does the need for more sustainable solutions to reduce the environmental impact of flying. Shifting to sustainable alternatives in aviation can help mitigate climate change, improve air quality, enhance energy security, and create new economic opportunities.

How is Sustainable Aviation Fuel produced?

There are different ways to produce SAF, depending on the type and source of the feedstock. The most common methods are:

1. Hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA)

This process converts vegetable oils, animal fats, or used cooking oils into SAF by removing oxygen and adding hydrogen. HEFA is the most widely used SAF technology today, accounting for over 90% of the SAF production capacity.

2. Fischer-Tropsch (FT)

This process converts biomass, municipal solid waste, or synthetic gases into SAF by breaking down the feedstock into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and then recombining them into hydrocarbons. FT is the second most common SAF technology, with several demonstration and commercial plants in operation or under development.

3. Alcohol-to-jet (ATJ)

This process converts ethanol or isobutanol into SAF by dehydrating and oligomerizing the alcohols. ATJ is a newer SAF technology, with a few pilot and demonstration plants in operation or under development.

4. Synthesized Iso-Paraffinic (SIP)

This process converts sugars into SAF by fermenting them into farnesene, a hydrocarbon that can be further processed into jet fuel. SIP is also a newer SAF technology, with one commercial plant in operation and another one under construction.

Traditional aviation fuel, also known as Jet A or Jet A-1, is a type of kerosene that is refined from crude oil. SAF, on the other hand, is a type of paraffinic fuel that is derived from renewable sources.

SAF has similar or better physical and chemical properties than traditional aviation fuel, such as energy density, freezing point, flash point, and viscosity. SAF can also be blended with traditional aviation fuel up to a certain percentage, depending on the certification and specification of the SAF technology.

sustainable-aviation-fuel

Sustainable Aviation Fuel Benefits

Sustainable aviation fuel has wide range of benefits that transcend traditional fossil fuels in aviation. SAF significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides, thus mitigating the environmental impact of air travel. Here we will discuss the environmental, social and economic benefits.

1. Environmental Benefits – Reduced Carbon Emissions and Improved Air Quality

SAF has lower life cycle carbon emissions than traditional aviation fuel, depending on the type and source of the feedstock, the production process, and the blend ratio. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), SAF can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional aviation fuel on a life cycle basis.

Another environmental benefit of using SAF is that it improves air quality around airports and in the atmosphere. SAF reduce emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons, which is having negative impact on human health and the environment. SAF can also reduce contrail formation, which can affect the radiative forcing and climate change.

2. Economic and Social benefits of Adopting SAF

Adopting SAF is having economic and social advantages for the aviation industry and the society. Some of these advantages are:

a) Enhancing Energy Security and Diversification

SAF can reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and increase the use of domestic and renewable energy sources, which can enhance the energy security and diversification of the aviation sector and the countries involved.

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b) Creating New Markets and Jobs

SAF can create new markets and jobs in the production, distribution, and consumption of SAF, which can stimulate the economic growth and development of the regions and communities involved.

c) Supporting Sustainable Development Goals

SAF can support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations, such as climate action, affordable and clean energy, industry innovation and infrastructure, responsible consumption and production, and partnerships for the goals.

What are the challenges in SAF Production

Alongwith the benefits of SAF, there are also some challenges in scaling up its production and consumption. Mainly cost and availability of feedstock, which can affect the economic viability and sustainability of SAF. Some of the factors that influence the cost and availability of feedstock are:

The supply and demand of feedstock can vary depending on the season, location, market, and competition. For example, vegetable oils and animal fats can be affected by the demand for food and biodiesel, while municipal solid waste can be affected by the waste management policies and practices.

The quality and quantity of feedstock can affect the yield and efficiency of SAF production, as well as the environmental performance and certification of SAF. For example, feedstock with high moisture, ash, or contaminants can reduce the quality and quantity of SAF output, while feedstock with low carbon intensity and high renewability can improve the environmental performance and certification of SAF.

The transportation and storage of feedstock can affect the cost and availability of feedstock, as well as the environmental impact of SAF production. For example, feedstock that is bulky, heavy, or perishable can increase the transportation and storage costs and emissions, while feedstock that is compact, light, or stable can reduce the transportation and storage costs and emissions.

How to Overcome these Challenges in SAF Production

To overcome the challenge of feedstock cost and availability, there are some opportunities for increasing SAF production capacity. Some of these opportunities are:

Developement of new and diverse feedstocks increase the supply and variety of feedstock, as well as reduce the competition and dependency on existing feedstocks. For example, new and diverse feedstocks can include algae, lignocellulosic biomass, carbon capture and utilization, and power-to-liquid.

Improving feedstock conversion technologies can increase the yield and efficiency of SAF production, as well as reduce the cost and emissions of SAF production. For example, improving feedstock conversion technologies can include optimizing the process parameters, enhancing the catalyst performance, integrating the process stages, and co-producing valuable products.

Expanding feedstock supply chains can increase the availability and accessibility of feedstock, as well as reduce the transportation and storage costs and emissions of feedstock. For example, expanding feedstock supply chains can include establishing regional hubs, building dedicated pipelines, and utilizing existing infrastructure.

sustainable aviation fuel benefits

Role of Airlines and Airport to promote Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Many airlines and airports around the world are taking initiatives to promote SAF and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. Some of these initiatives are:

1. Purchasing and Using SAF

Purchasing and using SAF in their operations, either directly from SAF producers or through intermediaries such as fuel suppliers or brokers. Some examples are Qantas, which operated the world’s first commercial flight using 50% SAF in 2018, and Los Angeles International Airport, which became the first U.S. airport to offer SAF to all airlines in 2019 .

2. Investing and Partnering in SAF Production

By providing financial support, technical expertise, or market access to SAF producers or projects. Some examples are British Airways, which partnered with Velocys to build a SAF plant in the UK, and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which invested in SkyNRG’s SAF production facility in the Netherlands.

3. Advocating and Educating on SAF Benefits

By raising awareness, influencing policies, or sharing best practices on SAF adoption and development. Some examples are Air France, which launched a campaign to inform and encourage passengers to use SAF, and Stockholm Arlanda Airport, which hosted a SAF conference to showcase the latest developments and innovations in SAF .

What are the Innovative Approaches to SAF Production and Usage

Besides the conventional methods of SAF production and usage, there are also some innovative approaches that are being explored or implemented by airlines and airports. Some of these approaches are:

1. Using Novel Feedstocks and Technologies

Some airlines and airports are using novel feedstocks and technologies to produce SAF, such as solar power, seawater, or CO2 capture. Some examples are LanzaTech, which converts industrial waste gases into SAF, and Khalifa University, which produces SAF from microalgae grown in seawater .

2. Using Digital Platforms and Blockchain

Some airlines and airports are using digital platforms and blockchain to facilitate SAF transactions, such as tracking, verifying, and trading SAF certificates or credits. Some examples are the SAF+ Consortium, which developed a digital platform to connect SAF producers and consumers, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which launched a blockchain-based SAF registry to improve the transparency and traceability of SAF.

3. Using Circular Economy and Waste-To-Value

Some airlines and airports are using circular economy and waste-to-value principles to produce SAF, such as reusing waste materials, reducing resource consumption, or creating value-added products. Some examples are Etihad Airways, which produced SAF from saltwater-tolerant plants grown on desert land, and Gatwick Airport, which produced SAF from organic waste generated at the airport .

Carbon Reduction Goals of Aviation Industry

The aviation industry has set ambitious carbon reduction goals to address the challenge of climate change and to align with the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The aviation industry’s carbon reduction goals are:

1. Carbon-Neutral growth from 2020

The aviation industry aims to cap its net carbon emissions at 2019 levels from 2020 onwards, meaning that any increase in emissions will be offset by equivalent reductions elsewhere. This goal is supported by the CORSIA scheme, which requires participating airlines to offset their emissions from international flights above 2019 levels.

2. 50% Reduction by 2050

The aviation industry aims to reduce its net carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels, meaning that the emissions in 2050 will be half of the emissions in 2005. This goal is supported by the four-pillar strategy, which consists of technology, operations, infrastructure, and market-based measures.

SAF also plays an important role in achieving the long-term sustainability objectives of the aviation industry, as it is one of the most effective and feasible ways to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact from aviation.

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Policies and Regulations in Promoting SAF Adoption

Policies and regulations plays a crucial role in creating a favorable environment and incentive for SAF adoption, as well as addressing the barriers and risks of SAF adoption. Some of the policies and regulations that can promote SAF adoption are:

1. Setting SAF Targets and Mandates

Creating a clear and consistent signal and demand for SAF adoption, as well as encourage the investment and innovation in SAF production and consumption. For example, setting SAF targets and mandates can include establishing a minimum SAF blending requirement, setting a SAF consumption goal, and implementing a SAF certification scheme.

2. Providing SAF Incentives and Subsidies

Reducing the cost gap and increase the competitiveness of SAF adoption, as well as support the development and deployment of SAF production and consumption. For example, providing SAF incentives and subsidies can include offering a SAF price premium, granting a SAF tax exemption, and funding a SAF research and development program.

3. Implementing SAF Standards and Regulations

Implementing SAF standards and regulations ensures the quality and safety of SAF adoption, as well as harmonize the technical and environmental requirements of SAF production and consumption. For example, implementing SAF standards and regulations can include defining a SAF specification, establishing a SAF sustainability criteria, and enforcing a SAF emission reduction obligation.

Conclusion

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), is a promising alternative to conventional jet fuel that can reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact from aviation. It has various challenges and opportunities for scaling up SAF production and consumption, such as the cost and availability of feedstock, the innovation and collaboration in SAF technology, and the policies and incentives that can support SAF adoption and development. SAF also play an important in achieving the long-term sustainability objectives of the aviation industry.

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