Sustainable Air Fuel And Why It’s Key To The Future Of Flying
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) – a low-carbon alternative to conventional, petroleum-based jet fuel – is helping the aviation industry lower its carbon footprint.
How does SAF work?
SAF is produced by converting readily available materials into a drop-in replacement crude oil.
So far, those materials have included mustard seeds and soybeans; non-edible oils, such as used cooking oils, and animal fats.
Soon, sustainable biomass, such as forest trimmings and crop waste, will also be used to make SAF.
The result is a fuel that’s chemically identical to petroleum-based diesel and can be implemented without changes to aircraft technology.
Why is SAF important?
The aviation industry is a major contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions.
As air travel increases worldwide, so will its environmental impact. According to forecasts from the International Council on Clean Transportation, carbon dioxide emissions from commercial aircraft alone are set to triple by 2050.
SAF is key to helping the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint, meet environmental standards and help contribute to less global warming.
Can existing aircraft use SAF?
Yes. The chemical and physical characteristics of SAF are almost identical to those of conventional jet fuel. This means they can be safely mixed with the latter to varying degrees, can use the same supply infrastructure and do not require any adaptation of either aircraft or engines. It means that SAF is often referred to as a “drop-in fuel” – that is, fuel that can be automatically incorporated into existing airport fuelling systems.All fuels (and SAF) must be certified to be used in commercial flights, and there are several bio-based aviation fuel production pathways that have been certified, with others in the approval process.
It sounds perfect, but there is one big problem. There’s simply not enough of the stuff being produced today. Last year SAF accounted for far less than 1% of the airlines’ fuel consumption. We must ramp that up dramatically. To develop it on a truly global scale requires a step-change in production levels, and that involves government. Investment, subsidies, tax breaks – are just some of the policies needed to encourage the private sector to produce SAF. A number of airlines are also committed to buying $US6.5 billion of SAF in the coming years.
Now is a perfect time to develop a SAF industry. It will create jobs of the 21st century, provide energy security and tackle climate change. With the right policy support, SAF could make up 2% of all aviation fuel by 2025. That’s likely to be a tipping point to make the cost of SAF competitive with fossil fuel.Once that has been achieved there’s no reason that SAF cannot become the main source of aviation fuel.
How is SAF being used now? What does the future look like?
SAF can be combined with conventional jet fuel to power aircraft.
Progress is being made to allow SAF to be used as a 100% replacement to petroleum jet fuel on aircraft. On December 1, 2021, United Airlines made aviation history by flying the first passenger flight powered by 100% SAF — taking passengers from Chicago to Washington, DC.
Soon, scaled production of SAF will let you fly from point A to B with a much lesser environmental impact compared to flying on a plane powered completely – or partially – by petroleum jet fuel.
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