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How SAF uptake will advance emissions-free aviation
Few of us really understand how we can make our industry more sustainable. The ACA Sustainability & Innovation Group member and Volanteus director Alina Minaeva reminds us of the part SAF plays.
The ACA Sustainability & Innovation Group member and Volanteus director Alina Minaeva explains how SAF is an essential step along the path to the decarbonisation of aviation.

Global warming and climate change have forced us to think about sustainability, especially within our high energy-consuming industry. Aviation is only one part of a wider problem, but few of us understand what actions we must take. And these actions don’t come in just one form, it’s a combination of differing measures. The Air Charter Association has a lot of information on its website under Sustainable and Innovation, and its S&I Group is happy to field enquiries, but Minaeva has also put together an overview of how the aviation industry is currently facing up to its green challenge. Here, she answers questions such as can all aircraft use SAF? Will the price come down? And how can operators use SAF if it is not available at every airport?

While carbon offsetting has become very popular, it does not directly change the amount of pollutants produced by flights. Hydrogen and electric-powered aircraft are a way of cutting CO2 and ancillary emissions, but it will take some time before electric aircraft enter service. And when they do, flights will be restricted to shorter ranges. So instead, when looking to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, there is a significant focus on SAF.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel is a fuel produced mainly from biological resources such as cooking oil, waste biomass, waste animal fats and others. Using SAF can provide a reduction in CO2 emissions of up to 80 per cent, while improving local air quality and improving fuel efficiency.

And all aircraft can use it. One of its greatest benefits is that existing aircraft can fly on a mixture of 50 per cent SAF blended with traditional aviation fuel. Engines have been tested on pure SAF and the industry expects to be working towards 100 per cent SAF-fuelled flights in the near future.

Currently SAF is three to four times more expensive than traditional aviation fuel, so both demand and production are very low. Only 0.1 per cent of the jet fuel currently used is sustainable. It should become cheaper over time, but it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation: SAF is produced in line with demand, but it is expensive so demand is low. Higher demand will reduce production costs, which will make it more attractive.

Changes in production techniques and feedstocks may bring costs down over time, but it may be that demand will come more as a result of government regulations supporting the uptake of sustainable fuel.

Perhaps one of the most interesting considerations relating to the use of sustainable fuel is that the aviation industry would be less reliant on the changeable oil market, making pricing structures much more consistent. So are the energy companies worried? Not overly, as almost all of the main oil companies produce SAF themselves, and are investing huge sums toward sustainable energy production. At present there are few refineries around the world, but SAF can be uplifted in most continents. It is arguable that airlines should look to buy SAF from locations where there are local refineries, this would avoid creating emissions during the transportation of SAF to non-local locations. But this is not yet possible. So instead some companies offer a 'Book and Claim' programme of selling SAF credits, where operators can 'buy' SAF without uplifting it themselves. They buy a credit, and the SAF is used in another aircraft flying out of an airport that does provides SAF. In this way the purchaser of the credit can officially mark their flight as net zero.

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