The role of SAF (sustainable aviation fuel)
Added on Wed July 28th, 2021
According to the latest report from the Clean Skies for Tomorrow coalition, established by the World Economic Forum, the aviation sector is responsible for about 3% of global CO2 emissions per year, or about 1 billion tons.
In recent years, the European Commission has been pursuing a number of policy measures to increase the sustainability of the aviation sector. In particular, in 2019, it was established to reduce transport emissions by 90% by 2050 (compared to 1990) and to increase the production and deployment of alternative and sustainable fuels (SAFs). In 2020, the Commission’s work program envisioned the emergence of an initiative (RefuelEU Aviation) to strengthen the production and use of sustainable aviation fuels, which will lead to the definition of a legislative proposal to support the increased production and use of SAFs and aim to establish harmonized rules at the European Union level.
There are currently 7 types of biofuels, the use of which, in a blend of up to 50% with kerosene of fossil origin, has been approved and meets the requirements of the technical standard. However, only one technology, for the moment, is mature from an industrial point of view while the others are not yet consolidated enough to consider large-scale commercial production.
Despite the growing interest in SAFs, current consumption is very low. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), SAF production in 2018 stood at about 15 million liters (about 12 thousand tons), representing less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption.
One of the main obstacles is definitely the production costs, which are currently up to 7 times higher than the cost of fossil kerosene.
In recent years, SAF production has grown most rapidly in the United States. On the other hand, in Europe most of the production has been carried out in pilot plants. However, in the last year there has been a significant increase in initiatives in this area by major industrial players.
In this context, the airlines themselves are moving to enter into agreements for the supply of sustainable fuels in order to comply with upcoming regulatory obligations.
The report “Destination 2050 – A route to net zero European aviation” estimates the total production of SAF in Europe in 2030 at 3.2 Mt, equal to about 6% of the fuel consumption of the entire sector. However, to reach this figure and above all to meet the political objectives, in the coming years it will be necessary to put in place a substantial incentive plan to overcome the technical and economic barriers in this sector.
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