There is no question about it- we NEED more sustainable aviation fuels in order to ensure the future of aviation. But why is this the case and what is so interesting about this? Read on to find out!
Sustainable aviation fuels are the future- here’s why
When it comes to travel and tourism, one thing we all need to work on the environmental impacts. This is because travelling has a huge impact on our climate and on the overall health of our planet – so to be able to continue exploring and experiencing all the magic the earth has to offer, we need to look after it! Sustainable aviation fuels are something to look at in terms of protecting our planet for future generations, and that’s what I’ll be talking about in today’s blog post…
What are sustainable aviation fuels?
Sustainable aviation fuels are any type of fuel used for aviation which have been made or derived from waste – they are renewable, and the Air Transport Action Group suggests that sustainability in this context is defined as something that can be continually and repeatedly resourced in a manner consistent with economic, social and environmental aims, specifically something that conserves an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources and does not contribute to climate change.
They work as a ‘drop in’ fuel, meaning they are added to traditional jet fuel to make it more sustainable. This means there is no need to change the infrastructure of an aircraft in order to make use of sustainable jet fuels. In turn, this means there is no expensive outlay for airlines wanting to make the change!
Is sustainable aviation fuel the same as biofuel?
The industry prefers not to use the term ‘biofuel’ as this tends to refer to fuels created from plants or animal products – which sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) often are not. By using this broader term, it means that SAFs can be created from other resources while still falling within the bracket. Some of the feedstocks often used in the creation of sustainable aviation fuels are not biological in nature – like municipal waste, for example – so to use the term ‘biofuel’ it would ultimately be misleading and could cause trouble for manufacturers, airlines and so on.
Keep reading to find out 10 incredible facts about sustainable aviation fuels which prove that they are indeed the future of eco-friendly air travel and tourism.
1. Sustainable aviation fuels produce 80% less CO2 over their life cycles compared to conventional jet fuel
This is a huge reduction in the amount of CO2 produced from fuel used to power aeroplanes. CO2 is a huge factor in global warming and climate change, so anything that can significantly lower the output of this gas is incredibly important for our planet.
In less than 200 years, human activity (air travel being one of them!) has doubled the amount of CO2 in the planet’s atmosphere – of course major damage has already been done, but by replacing traditional jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuels we are able to potentially slow down any further damage and will mark an important time in the history of aviation.
2. The aviation industry are aiming to halve net CO2 emissions by 2050
Following on from the previous fact about sustainable aviation fuels, the aviation industry has set three global goals in order to address climate impacts. These are:
- An average annual improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% from 2009 to 2020
- A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions as 2020 levels through carbon-neutral growth
- Halving net CO2 emissions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels
With sustainable aviation fuels producing 80% less CO2 emissions than standard jet fuel, they are a great way for the industry to try and hit this third and final goal – the more companies and planes using SAFs, the lower the emissions will be.
3. The aviation industry produces 2% of global man made carbon emissions
While 2% may not sound like a lot, it is important to note that the number of air travel passengers is continuing to grow year on year. In 2016 there were around 3.8 billion commercial flight passengers; this was projected to grow to around 6.9 billion by 2035.
With the number of passengers almost doubling, the use of traditional jet fuel would surely lead to this 2% doubling to 4% – in order to stop that from happening, the use of sustainable aviation fuels is imperative as they produce much less CO2. By introducing and using SAFs, the aviation industry can continue to grow without also continuing to increase their harmful output.
This is really important to ensure that we are able to continue the use of commercial air travel in particular; by making it more sustainable and safer for the planet, we are having less of an environmental impact when we travel for leisure and fun.
4. Implementing sustainable aviation fuels is easier than doing the same for other modes of transport
Even though we look at aeroplanes as these huge modes of transport, which physically they are, the fuel supply for the commercial aviation industry is actually quite small (and less complex) than it is for other transport modes.
If you compare petrol stations in the US, for example, there are currently over 145,000. However, there are much fewer global airport fuel depots – less than 200. And with over a billion cars and other vehicles on the roads compared to only around 30,000 commercial planes in action, it is easy to see why the rollout of sustainable aviation fuels is actually an easier task than trying to do the same with cars and vehicles owned by individuals or small companies.
It might seem like a bigger task given the size of a plane or airport compared to a car or petrol station, but there are fewer to contend with!
5. Modern aircraft are 80% more fuel-efficient than their 1950s counterparts
Already, even before sustainable aviation fuels started to be implemented, the aviation industry had made leaps and bounds in terms of fuel efficiency. They achieved this by making planes much more aerodynamic, improving engine performance, and just generally looking at how airlines, air traffic control systems and airports themselves operate.
This is already an incredible achievement, but technology can only go so far. Sustainable aviation fuels are the way to continue making modern air travel more and more efficient.
6. There are three technical requirements for sustainable aviation fuels
According to the Air Transport Action Group, there are three technical requirements for sustainable aviation fuels. They have to undergo strict testing – in the lab, on the ground and in flight – at an internationally recognised standard, too. The three requirements are:
- A high-performance fuel that can withstand a wide range of operational conditions
- A fuel that can directly substitute conventional jet fuel for aviation with no requirement for different airframe, engine or logistical infrastructure
- A fuel that meets or exceeds current jet fuel specifications
With these strict requirements and criteria, as well as the amount of testing needed, it is clear that sustainable aviation fuels are a safe option. Coupled with the fact they are obviously more sustainable, it is clear that they are the best option for the future!
7. Sustainable aviation fuels go hand in hand with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
In case you didn’t know, the UN released 17 Sustainable Development Goals covering a wide range of bases with the overarching aim of making the world more sustainable going forward. SAFs are a great way to help achieve some of these goals; in particular they work towards goal number 7, which is to ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ as well as the 13th Sustainable Development Goal, ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’.
If we simplify those goals to simply clean energy and climate action then it is very clear to see how SAFs are key to reaching those goals. Again, this is key in seeing sustainable aviation fuels as the future – because the 17 SDGs are really important for the planet and the population, so anything which improves the chances of hitting these targets is to be welcomed with open arms!
Further to these particular goals, where SAFs are a big part of it, they can also help with reaching other goals – in general, the SDGs are really focused on reducing poverty and inequality. By providing jobs in developing countries, for example, sustainable aviation fuels can play a part in this too.
8. SAFs will end up being more economically viable
At present, sustainable aviation fuels and the technology required to produce, distribute and use them are all quite new and still developing. This can lead to a higher cost – but this is a pattern we have seen reflected across other modes of transport and industries in general. At first, a lot of money needs to be spent – making the new ‘product’ more expensive; over time, this balances out and eventually the newer product becomes the cheaper way of doing things.
So it stands to reason that SAFs will, in time, end up being the most economically viable type of jet fuel for the commercial aviation industry to use. As more airlines opt in to using sustainable aviation fuels, there will be more investment ploughed into the field – followed by the incentive for new (and competing…) SAF production companies to emerge.
Following on from this, sustainability isn’t always just about the environment – despite that being what likely springs to mind when you hear the word. There are actually three pillars of sustainability, and these are key to the aforementioned UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: environmental protection, social equity, and economic viability. So with that being said, SAFs being economically viable means they are definitely sustainable!
9. More than 370,000 commercial flights have operated on sustainable aviation fuels since 2016
While this number is small in comparison to the overall number of flights per year, let alone in the past 7 years, it shows that SAFs have the capability to do what they are meant to do. Neste is the world’s leading producer of sustainable aviation fuels, as well as renewable diesel; they produce their products in the Netherlands, Singapore and Finland. They say:
More than 40 airlines and 13 major airports already use and supply SAF and their number is growing rapidly. The demand for SAF is growing, too. Neste currently has an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons (approximately 34 million gallons) annually. By the end of 2023, Neste will have the capacity to produce some 1.5 million tons (515 million gallons) of SAF annually.
As they mention, the demand for sustainable aviation fuels is clearly growing – and they, along with other companies who produce SAFs, are working hard to be able to fulfil this need.
10. There is a variety of products used to create SAFs
When it comes to actually making sustainable aviation fuels, there are a number of different products and materials used in the process. These include:
- Used cooking oil
- Forestry and agricultural waste
- Green hydrogen
- Carbon captured from the air
- Feedstocks produced by green plants
All of these products, byproducts and materials are sustainable and renewable in themselves meaning SAFs are a key way to ensure we can continue to power commercial aircraft in the future.
Sustainable aviation fuel FAQs
Lets finish off this article by answering some of the most common questions on this topic.
What are sustainable aviation fuels?
Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are fuels made from renewable or low-carbon sources, such as waste oil, agricultural residues, or algae. They can be used in airplanes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable aviation.
Why are sustainable aviation fuels important?
Aviation is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of sustainable aviation fuels can help reduce these emissions. SAF can also improve energy security by diversifying fuel sources and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
How are sustainable aviation fuels produced?
Sustainable aviation fuels can be produced from a variety of sources, including biomass, waste oils and fats, and renewable hydrogen. These feedstocks are converted into liquid fuels through processes such as hydrotreating, gasification, and fermentation.
What is the cost of sustainable aviation fuels compared to conventional fuels?
Currently, sustainable aviation fuels are more expensive than conventional fuels. However, with increasing demand and technological advancements, the cost is expected to decrease over time.
How much of sustainable aviation fuels are currently being used in the aviation industry?
Currently, the use of sustainable aviation fuels is limited, accounting for less than 1% of total aviation fuel consumption.
Are there any performance differences between sustainable aviation fuels and conventional fuels?
Sustainable aviation fuels have similar performance characteristics to conventional fuels, and can be used in existing aircraft without modifications.
What is the potential impact of sustainable aviation fuels on greenhouse gas emissions?
The use of sustainable aviation fuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional fuels, depending on the feedstock and production process.
Are there any regulatory frameworks in place to promote the use of sustainable aviation fuels?
Several countries and organisations have established targets and policies to promote the use of sustainable aviation fuels, such as the European Union Renewable Energy Directive and the United States Renewable Fuel Standard.
How can the aviation industry increase the use of sustainable aviation fuels?
The aviation industry can increase the use of sustainable aviation fuels through partnerships and collaborations with feedstock producers and fuel suppliers, investing in research and development, and supporting policy frameworks that incentivise the use of sustainable aviation fuels.
What is the outlook for the future of sustainable aviation fuels?
The demand for sustainable aviation fuels is expected to increase as the aviation industry seeks to reduce its environmental impact. Advances in technology and increased investment in production infrastructure are likely to result in lower costs and increased availability of sustainable aviation fuels in the future.
Sustainable aviation fuels- To conclude
Sustainable aviation fuels are a really interesting part of the future of air travel; anything we do as tourists has an impact on the planet, and therefore anything we can do to reduce this impact is something to be celebrated. This planet is absolutely incredible, and full of so much history, culture, beauty and much more – it is imperative that we protect it for future generations to enjoy as much as we have!
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