Unconvincing airline hype about large future use of so called “sustainable aviation fuels”

Airlines are falling over each other, to say how much “Sustainable Aviation Fuel” (SAF) they plan to use in future, and how this will greatly increase their carbon emissions. Ryanair says it will use 12.5% SAF by 2030; IAG says it will use 10% by 2030; easyJet says they will use SAF in the short term, but “we must avoid all resources being drawn into SAFs, which don’t fully solve the problem.”  According to the European Commission, SAF currently accounts for just 0.05% of jet fuel use in the EU, and without further regulation, the share is expected to reach just 2.8% by 2050. There is disagreement between low cost, short haul airlines and those flying longer routes, about whether SAF fuel quotas should apply to all flights, not only short haul. Long-haul air services departing European airports accounted for 48% of CO2 emissions from all operations in 2019, while making up just 6% of flights, according to Eurocontrol data.  It is unclear what all this SAF is going to be made from. One of the very few fuels thought to genuinely be low carbon, up to now, has been used cooking oil. But it has been revealed that there is considerable fraud, with virgin palm oil (causing deforestation) being passed off as used.


Ryanair to power 12.5 per cent of flights with sustainable aviation fuels by 2030

30 Apr 2021

by Mark Caswell (Business Traveller)

Ryanair has launched a new sustainable aviation research centre in partnership with Trinity College Dublin, along with a goal to power 12.5 per cent of its flights with sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by 2030.

The initiative will see Ryanair donate €1.5 million which will be used “to seed a multi-disciplinary research team to engage in best-in-class research around Sustainable Aviation Fuels, Zero Carbon Aircraft Propulsion Systems and Noise Mapping”.

Ryanair said that the research, which will start this summer, “will inform the policies of both EU and international governments on making aviation environmentally and economically sustainable, as well as harness future investments by the aviation industry towards sustainability”.

The group said that the project, along with investment in its new Boeing B737 Max 200 “Gamechanger” aircraft (of which the carrier has 210 order), will help it significantly reduce its CO2 and noise footprint over the next decade.

The initiative will accelerate research in three core areas of sustainable aviation fuels, zero carbon aircraft propulsion systems, and noise mapping for low-noise aircraft fleets.

Ryanair recently joined the Fuelling Flight Initiative, which is intended to provide recommendations on the sustainability aspects of the EU’s policy design to support Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).

Earlier this month British Airways’ parent company IAG announced a commitment to operate 10 per cent of its flights with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2030.



IAG to operate 10 per cent of flights with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030

23 Apr 2021

by Mark Caswell (Business Traveller)

International Airlines Group has announced a commitment to operate 10 per cent of its flights with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2030.

The owner of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling says it will purchase one million tonnes of sustainable jet fuel per year, enabling it to cut its annual emissions by two million tonnes by 2030.

The group says that this equates to removing one million cars from Europe’s roads each year.

In addition IAG says it will extend its 2050 net zero commitment to its supply chain, stating that it will work with suppliers “to enable them to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 for the products and services they provide to IAG”.

The group plans to invest US$400 million in the development of sustainable aviation fuel in the next 20 years, partnering with SAF developers Lanzajet and Velocys.

Commenting on the news Luis Gallego, IAG’s chief executive, said:

“For more than a decade, IAG has led the airline industry’s actions to reduce its carbon footprint. It’s clearly challenging to transition to a low carbon business model but, despite the current pandemic, we remain resolute in our climate commitments.

“Government support is critical to meet this target by attracting investment to construct sustainable aviation fuel plants that will deliver enough supply for the airline industry, creating highly valued green jobs and economic growth at global scale”.

Velocys also provided Business Traveller with the following comment:

“Velocys welcomes our project partner IAG’s commitment to power 10 per cent of its flights with SAF by 2030. Our planned Altalto waste-to-jet-fuel plant will be the UK’s first SAF facility and could be fuelling transatlantic flights in just five years’ time with no need to modify aircraft or engines at all.

“The fuel, based on technology supplied by Velocys, can offer negative-carbon-emissions fuels with the integration of carbon capture technologies.

“We are proud to be collaborating with an organisation who recognise the essential role SAF will play in significantly decarbonising the aviation sector by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”

This week the results of a new study carried out on behalf CE Delft on behalf of Transport and Environment Europe’s showed that surging demand for used cooking oil for biofuels could fuel deforestation.



Doubts cast over some sources of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)

22 Apr 2021 by Tom Otley (Business Traveller)

Doubts have been cast over the sources of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) just as airlines look to increase the amount used for their flights.

SAF is seen as an interim answer to the problem of carbon emissions from flying. It is a ‘drop-in’ fuel, meaning it can be used without adapting conventional jet engines, and although it is up to three times more expensive than kerosene, customers are being persuaded to pay more to encourage increased production and bring prices down.

Air France and KLM launch Sustainable Aviation Fuel option for corporate customers

Governments are also being lobbied to support the SAF industry.

There are doubts, however, including a new study which shows that despite the European Union promoting used cooking oil as a waste product which will reduce the lifetime emissions of the fuel used to power transport, over half of it comes from abroad. As demand could double by 2030, it leaves the EU increasingly reliant on imports, despite EU auditors raising concerns over inadequate systems to stop virgin oils like palm, which drive deforestation, being passed off as used.

NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), which commissioned the study, is calling on the EU to limit the amount of used cooking oil in transport and improve monitoring to avoid fuelling deforestation.

The NGO says that China supplies over a third (34 per cent) of Europe’s used cooking oil imports while almost a fifth (19 per cent) comes from major palm oil producers Malaysia and Indonesia combined. Within a decade the volume Europe needs could double to 6 million tonnes as EU countries strive to meet targets for renewable fuels in transport, the study finds. This in turn could trigger palm oil being used to replace cooking oil in exporting countries while also incentivising fraud (mixing virgin oil).

Cristina Mestre, biofuels manager at T&E, said: “Europe’s thirst for used cooking oil to power its transport sector is outstripping the amount leftover from the continent’s deep fryers. This leaves us reliant on a waste product being shipped from the other side of the world. Countries that would use used cooking oil for animal feed and other products may end up exporting theirs while using cheap oil, like palm, at home. The EU needs to limit the use of used cooking oil to avoid doing more harm than good.”

It would be possible for Europe to increase local sources of genuine used cooking oil, says T&E, but at present there are the limits both of the capacity of local authorities to collect it and how much used cooking oil Europeans and EU industries can produce.

As used cooking oil is counted double towards national renewables targets under the EU Renewable Energy Directive, ironically it is often traded at a higher price than virgin oil. This increases the risk that virgin oils could be fraudulently mixed with imported used cooking oil.

The EU Court of Auditors has said that voluntary schemes cannot guarantee that all the UCO imported into Europe is actually ‘used’.

New fraud investigation casts doubt over used cooking oil origins

Cristina Mestre concluded: “The current EU system for biofuels does not provide certainty that used cooking oil is actually used. The EU should strengthen its verification and monitoring requirements along the supply chain and do regular checks to make sure it is really a waste product and therefore sustainable.”

The NGO says that palm oil production is one of the key drivers of deforestation in Southeast Asia and increasingly in South America. The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive will be reviewed in June, including the rules that govern renewable fuels in transport.


easyJet to fly hydrogen planes in the 2030s, SAF is the interim step

SAFs continue to be the key technology for long-haul aviation to reduce its impact on the environment

2 April 2021 (H2Bulletin)

Decarbonisation seems to have reset the technological developments in aviation, making the future more complex and challenging. The smaller aircraft industry has now increased its bets on hydrogen fuel cell technology and electrification, though long hauled aircraft will likely tilt towards sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), albeit at slow speed.

A significant advantage of using SAF is that aircraft engines do not need to be redesigned to use them, while SAF can also be blended with conventional fuels. According to the European Commission, SAF currently accounts for just 0.05% of jet fuel use in the EU, and without further regulation, the share is expected to reach just 2.8% by 2050.

Europe’s airlines are united to support the 2050 net-zero target; now, the question of whether to extend the green fuel blending obligation to long-haul flights is revealing some cracks in their unity. Airlines are already divided over the inclusion of long haul, whereas Eurocontrol estimates that just 6% of flights, those over 4000 km in length, create half of the aviation’s CO2 emissions.

In early March 2021, a group of organisations which included Ryanair and easyJet sent a letter to Vice-President of the European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean calling to cover long-haul emissions by the EU’s Sustainable Aviation Fuels mandate. The European Commission will soon release the ReFuelEU Aviation regulation to support green flights, but low-cost airlines worry that large polluters (long flights) will be exempt from the requirement.

Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, said, “SAFs are only an interim step for shorthaul carriers. Our ultimate solution is zero-emission propulsion which is why it is crucial that there are aviation-specific incentives for zero-emissions technologies like electric and hydrogen and why we must avoid all resources being drawn into SAFs, which don’t fully solve the problem.”

At the end of 2019, easyJet signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbus for research into infrastructure requirements for electric, hybrid-electric and hydrogen aircraft. In September 2020, Airbus unveiled three different hydrogen-powered concept planes; turbofan, turboprop and blended wing body. “We are optimistic that we will be regularly flying our customers on electric, hydrogen or hybrid planes by the mid to late-2030s,” easyJet told H2 bulletin.



See earlier:

Call for UK government support for sustainable aviation fuels

2 Jun 2020

by Tom Otley (Business Traveller)

The Sustainable Aviation coalition has today written to the UK Government’s Transport Secretary calling for UK aviation to be at the heart of the Government’s economic recovery strategy.

The coalition which is formed of UK airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and air navigation service providers, says that capitalizing on the UK’s world leading position on sustainable aviation fuel technology will allow the country to rapidly bounce back from Covid-19.

Europe’s first municipal waste-to-jet fuel facility – Altalto Immingham – was granted planning permission in North East Lincolnshire recently.

The coalition wants the UK Government to work with industry to work on similar projects, as well as:

Develop aircraft and engine technology R&D capabilities, ensuring the UK is among the first in the world to develop hybrid and electric aircraft;
Accelerate UK airspace modernisation, to make use of new aircraft performance capability and reduce emissions and noise; and
Progress robust carbon offset measures and carbon removal technologies.

The commitment would, according to the coalition, require an investment of £500 million as part of the UK Government’s recovery plan. Adam Morton, Chair of Sustainable Aviation, said:

“In February this year, UK aviation committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and laid out a plan to achieve this through investing in cleaner aircraft and engine technology, smarter flight operations, sustainable aviation fuels and high-quality carbon offsets and removals.

“Three months on, these actions all remain essential to delivering sector wide decarbonisation, particularly given the role UK aviation can play as an engine for rebuilding the economy. But to capitalise on these opportunities we need urgent action from Government, particularly to support the commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel technology in the UK.”