“Sustainable Aviation” produce its “road-map” for unduly ambitious levels of jet biofuels in future


Industry group’s alternative fuel road-map

According to Sustainable Aviation, the UK could produce and export alternative fuels but significant Government support would be required. The road-map recommends: allowing alternative fuel producers to claim Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation certificates for aviation fuels to bring these in line with road transport fuels; providing financial support through the Green Investment Bank; and giving greater priority to the research and development of sustainable fuels.

According to the report, alternative fuels could reduce UK aviation emissions by 15-24% by 2050 based on a 25-40% penetration of sustainable fuels into the global aviation fuel market. The estimate is much higher than figures from academics and official sources.

Manchester Metropolitan University’s Professor David Lee assessed that globally, in a likely scenario, alternative fuel use could cut emissions by 5% by 2050. UK Government forecastsanticipate biofuels taking up only 2.5% of aviation fuel by 2050.

Emissions savings from alternative fuels depend on the uptake of the fuels and the net emissions savings from using alternative fuels calculated using a life-cycle analysis (LCA).

A life-cycle analysis includes direct and indirect emissions resulting from land use changes to grow alternative fuels, all stages of fuel production and distribution and use of the finished fuel. Historically, the aviation industry has estimated lifecycle emissions savings of 80% compared to conventional fuel but the UK Committee on Climate Change estimated (p96) in 2009 that lifecycle emissions savings for biofuels in aviation would be lower at around 50%.

We support efforts by the aviation industry to reduce its emissions, including through the use of sustainable biofuels if they can meet the following criteria:

  1. Emissions must be accurately accounted for using LCA and not zero-rated.
  2. Full life-cycle analysis must demonstrate that net emissions are lower than conventional fuels.
  3. Sustainability appraisals must include direct and indirect land-use change.

In practice the amount of sustainable biofuel available for use in aircraft will depend on a number of factors, including demand for such fuel from other sectors similarly keen to reduce emissions.

More information on alternative fuels in aviation is available here.




The “Road Map” is at http://www.sustainableaviation.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/SA-Sustainable-Aviation-Fuels-Road-Map-2014-Full-Report.pdf

“Sustainable Aviation” says:

Road-map to multi-million pound sustainable aviation fuels industry launched

24th December 2014

Sustainable Aviation (SA), a coalition of the UK’s airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service provider NATS, has launched its latest Road-Map, which considers the opportunities for sustainable aviation fuels.

The Road-Map identifies the potential for a 24 per cent reduction in aviation carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and the generation of £265 million in economic value plus the creation of 4400 jobs in the UK over the next 15 years.

However, Government support will be vital to achieve this potential. This ground-breaking document identifies and forecasts the potential volumes of sustainable aviation fuel to 2050, both for the UK and globally.

It highlights the possible contribution such fuels can make to supporting the decarbonisation of the UK economy, the opportunities for job creation and economic growth as well as the viability of the market for producers, refiners and investors.

SA hopes to build on the successful work promoting innovation that Government has already undertaken with industry, in order to develop a shared vision that focuses on investing in the commercialisation of high value sustainable aviation fuels.

The Road-Map:

  •  Forecasts that by 2030 there could be 90-160 operational sustainable fuel plants globally with revenue estimated at £8-17 billion – with up to 12 plants in the UK.
  • Defines an opportunity to develop a domestic industry for sustainable aviation fuels generating up to £265 million in economic value, and supporting up to 4,400 jobs. 
  • Identifies that with the right policy and investment framework, UK aviation can reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 24% by 2050 through the deployment of sustainable alternative fuels.
  • Reviews the current, new and emerging sustainable fuels market.
  • Recommends the establishment of a public-private initiative to help realise these opportunities, similar to the USA’s Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative (CAAFI).

Jonathon Counsell, Chair of Sustainable Aviation, said:  “The UK aviation industry is committed to reducing its impact on the environment and this Road- Map not only demonstrates an additional way for us to do so but also identifies a new industry that could supply thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions pounds to our economy.

“Sustainable aviation fuels have the potential to play an important role in achieving the UK’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions from transport, contributing to EU 2030 climate change policy goals and the global aviation target to halve net carbon emissions by 2050.

“The UK should seize on its leadership in global aerospace and aviation and maintain this country’s competitive advantage to boost investment in science, deliver increased jobs for the UK and produce significant emissions reductions.

The UK aviation sector is unique in its commitment to working together to develop sustainable, low carbon, fuels that will help deliver on its climate change commitments.  From recycling waste materials and gases into jet fuel, to the early stage development of algal oils for transportation fuels, the potential for the UK to become a centre of excellence for sustainable fuels is considerable. 

“We look forward to working closely with Government to ensure policies are consistent across transport modes that will drive the necessary investment.”



Useful terms

Advanced fuel

Advanced fuels are produced by more complex processing technologies
that are able to process wastes, residues and other feedstock types.
These successors to first generation of sustainable fuels usually yield
higher greenhouse gas savings and often avoid the land use concerns
associated with many first generation technologies and feedstocks.

Aviation fuel

Current aviation fuel a kerosene-type fuel, commonly referred to as Jet A-
1 or Jet A. Jet A-1 is suitable for most turbine engine aircraft. It has a
flash point of 38oC and a freeze point maximum of -47 oC. Jet A is only
available in North America and has a higher freeze point (-40 oC).


The term ‘biofuel’ is generally used to describe non fossil fuels derived
from biomass, but it’s important to note that the sustainability of some of
these can vary significantly depending on their source and processing.

Low carbon fuel

Fuels that provide high greenhouse gas lifecycle savings (>60%) when
compared with their fossil equivalents.

Sustainable fuel

‘Sustainable fuel’ can be derived from biomass, but could also be derived
from other sustainable sources that have a lower overall carbon footprint
than fossil- or some biomass-derived fuels – such as fuels made from bio
or non-bio waste streams.

Synthetic fuel

A manufactured hydrocarbon product which is chemically similar to the
fossil equivalent that can be substituted for or mixed with other aviation
fuels. It may or may not be produced from sustainable feedstock.




Sustainable Fuels UK Road-Map: This will be launched on Tuesday 2nd December 2014 at a Reception in the House of Commons. The document can be found at www.sustainableaviation.co.uk. The Road-Map is the product of a SA discussion paper, ‘Fuelling the Future’, which was published earlier this year and generated feedback from stakeholders in Government, policymakers, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), industry and fuels experts

SA CO2 Road-Map: Published in 2012, this document sets out Sustainable Aviation’s projection of future CO2 emissions from UK aviation.  This projection is based on recently published UK-Government forecasts of aviation demand-growth, together with our own assumptions concerning the deployment of technology, sustainable fuels, operational measures and carbon trading. SA concluded that UK aviation is able to accommodate significant growth to 2050 without a substantial increase in absolute CO2 emissions. We also support the reduction of net CO2 emissions to 50% of 2005 levels through internationally agreed carbon trading.

Projection of CO2 Emissions from UK Aviation

SA Fuels Road Map Graph

SA Fuels Road Map Infographic





The report says:

“2.2 Feedstock availability and sustainability

Aviation fuels are produced by taking a feedstock and converting it via
industrial processes into a fuel. A range of different potential feedstocks have
been identified. Some are based on oil crops such as algae and other non-food
feedstock while others are based on waste sources such as municipal solid
waste, used cooking oil and waste industrial gases. More sophisticated
processing technologies necessary for the manufacturing of aviation fuels will
widen the number of available feedstock types, and many of these are low
grade, low value materials.


2.3 Indirect impacts

Direct impacts can generally be measured and attributed to the party that
caused them. However, there is also concern that fuel production can have
negative unintended consequences with the most cited examples being
indirect land use change (ILUC) in which the production of newly demanded
products on existing cropland displaces other agricultural activity to previously
non-productive land. The possible extent of negative ILUC and the resulting
GHG emissions that may occur as a result of additional demands for different
crops in different regions is an issue that is a great concern to policy makers.

Considerable work has been done to identify policies and practices that
mitigate the risk of causing negative ILUC.

Members of the aviation industry have been heavily engaged in discussions with NGOs and policy-makers to ensure that the sustainable fuels they are considering using do not generate risks of having negative ILUC impacts. One major way of mitigating the risk of
ILUC is through the use of feedstocks based on waste materials and residues.

Other ways in which the risk of ILUC impacts can be mitigated are:

 Producing feedstock on unused land – that is land that is not currently
used to provide provisioning services (i.e. arable land and forestland). [Dubious] 
 Increasing feedstock availability for sustainable fuels without increasing
the pressure on land use through increased yield or land productivity. [Dubious]
 Feedstock production on underused land – land that falls between the
above two categories  [Dubious]
 Increased feedstock availability through reduction in post-harvest waste. [Dubious]
 Integrating food and fuel production in ways that lead to higher overall land
 Using feedstocks that require little land such as algae.

[Most of these ignore the inconvenient fact that some land may appear to be “under-used” or not used, but actually be occasionally used by communities, for grazing etc.  They also ignore the fact that biofuels cannot generally be grown to produce commercially profitable crops unless given extra irrigation and fertilisers.  Also that constantly removing post-harvest waste, rather than let it break down and return to the soil, eventually degrades the soil, and deprives it of nutrients – thus requiring future irrigation and fertilisation. AW note]. 
Sometimes fuels are referred to in terms of the generation of the technology with which they are associated (1st, 2nd, 3rd , etc.) or ‘Advanced’ compared to early types of feedstock and processes, as a shorthand way of distinguishing sustainable from non-sustainable fuels. Such classifications can sometimes be overly simplistic and do not provide a consistent indication of sustainability.

The aviation industry has been very focused on understanding best practice in
this area and SA members believe the key determinate of a fuel’s sustainability
is whether it can meet a robust independent standard which is independently



The report says:

“There are significant market failures during innovation and action by the public sector been critical to advancing the sustainable fuels industry.”

[ ie. in plain English, many of these attempts to produce biofuels for aircraft have failed, and the industry wants public funding, by the taxpayer, to fund them.  AW note]


It says:

“Boeing’s long-term intent is not to predict winners in feedstocks or fuel
pathways, but to identify candidate biomass sources that can be grown,
harvested and processed sustainably and at a price point that is competitive
with fossil- fuels.”


“Green diesel, made sustainably from plant oils and waste animal fat, has production capacity of 800 million gallons in the US, Europe and Asia that could rapidly supply 1% of global aviation fuel demand. ”

[The trouble is that these waste fats and oils could all be used for other sectors, such as for land vehicles, or for pharmaceuticals. There is no reason why these potential fuels should be turned into aviation fuel. If aviation gets these genuinely low carbon fuels, the other sectors have to find other higher carbon fuels. The high carbon fuels have just been burned by another user, with aviation getting a theoretical lower carbon fuel. Net effect – no drop in carbon burned.  AW note]. 

As Sustainable Aviation says: “The use of Green Diesel (i.e. the diesel fraction of the HEFA process) as a blending component in aviation fuels is currently being assessed for approval by ASTM. Such approval would simplify the process for the production of aviation
fuels via hydro treatment, and could lead to an immediate increase in the
production capacity for sustainable fuels. However, the aviation industry will
continue to compete with the road transport sector for this resource. ”