The aviation industry is a big polluter of our World, accounting for approximately 2-3% of the manmade global carbon emissions and that means we need to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions in the following years. This is an urgent situation because of the growth of air traffic in the past years and the predicted growth. Without timely action, aviation could consume up to 22% of the global carbon budget by 2050. To maintain growth and at the same time address its environmental impact, the aviation industry has committed to reducing net carbon emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2050.
Technology, operations, and infrastructure improvements are effective ways to reduce emissions. More than 99% of airline emissions and approximately 50% of airport emissions are related to jet fuel combustion. Since aircraft are not able to switch to alternative energy sources like hydrogen or electricity soon, the industry is trying to switch to sustainable aviation fuel made from renewable feedstock. ICAO managed to establish some rules for sustainable aviation fuel in the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) plan. In Resolution A40-18(2019), the ICAO Assembly made several acknowledgments and requests related to SAF, including aspects related to sustainability and the life cycle emissions.
The industry is aiming for at least 80% CO2 emissions reduction compared to conventional jet fuel, improved local air quality and improved fuel efficiency. In addition to the reduction of total life cycle CO2 emissions, SAF can also reduce the particulate matter (PM) by up to 90% and sulfur (SOX) by 100%, compared to conventional jet fuel. In addition to the better air quality, studies have shown that sustainable aviation fuel has a higher energy density than conventional jet fuel, resulting in a improved fuel efficiency(1.5%-3%), so that airlines can carry higher payload or extend the range of their airplanes. Other benefits include the region’s increased energy security, reduced volatility of jet fuel supply and price, and economic development through investments and job creation. SAF can be blended at up to 50% with traditional jet fuel and all quality tests are completed as per a traditional jet fuel. The blend is then re-certified as Jet A or Jet A-1. SAF is currently more costly than traditional fossil jet fuel. That’s down to a combination of the current availability of sustainable feedstocks and the continuing development of new production technologies.
What exactly are SAF fuels made from? This fuel is made from feedstock growth like sustainable non-food crops, inedible byproducts, algae that use CO2 to grow, or from repurposing waste streams like landfill or municipal waste, crop waste, food waste. By repurposing waste we can also avoid large amounts of methane gas or incineration.
According to IATA over 370.000 flights have been taken to the skies using SAF since 2016, around 100 million liters of SAF will be produced in 2021 and more than 45 airlines now have experience with SAF.