Green jet fuel is already available and it has the potential to green aviation but production costs remain high hampering scale up.
1. SAF and climate targets
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has been hailed as one of the major solutions to curb carbon emissions by 80% on average, according to IATA, the International Air Transport Association. In order to reach the climate targets, the aviation industry pledged to cut carbon emissions halving them of what they were in 2005 by 2050.
Eventually, the industry hopes to become carbon-neutral. The environmental pledge is seen by many as too ambitious, especially because SAF accounts for 50% to 75% of the total reduction in emissions, depending on the different scenarios, and, for the time being, the uptake has been extremely slow.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), in 2019 SAF accounted for just 0.1% of all jet fuel used worldwide, the last year of business as usual before Covid-19 arrived. Progress has slowed down due to the pandemic, and the industry’s pre-Covid-19 goal of reaching 2% use of SAF by 2025 from 0.1% in 2019 seems doubtful.
2. Scaling up
SAF is blended with traditional fuel in ratios up to 50%. Currently, most fuels use much lower proportions of SAF, but it is expected that this will increase over time. Last year, Air France-KLM, Total, Groupe ADP and Airbus have joined forces to carry out the first long-haul flight powered by SAF produced in France. Despite the readiness of the infrastructure being in place, scaling up is proving to be a challenge.
This is critical and very beneficial for the aviation industry, because there is no need to invest in new infrastructure or new aircraft, and it’s great for airports too, because they can use the same storage and fueling infrastructure — from that perspective, SAF is excellent.Andreas Schafer, professor of energy and transport at University College London
The problem is that it’s currently much more expensive to produce than regular jet fuel, even with today’s elevated oil prices. To make the price go down, production needs to ramp up significantly and new types of SAF must come to the market.
“There’s no real business case for the sector to invest in it at the moment,” said Schafer, meaning that airlines have no incentive to use SAF other than to reduce emissions — but at current prices and amidst a global crisis brought on by Covid-19, that is a luxury they can’t afford.