What is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)?
Andreea Moyes, Air bp’s global aviation sustainability director, gives the low down on sustainable aviation fuel.
SAF stands for sustainable aviation fuel. It’s produced from sustainable feedstocks and is very similar in its chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel. Using SAF results in a reduction in carbon emissions compared to the traditional jet fuel it replaces over the lifecycle of the fuel. Some typical feedstocks used are cooking oil and other non-palm waste oils from animals or plants; solid waste from homes and businesses, such as packaging, paper, textiles, and food scraps that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration. Other potential sources include forestry waste, such as waste wood, and energy crops, including fast growing plants and algae. Air bp’s SAF is currently made from used cooking oil and animal waste fat.
Jet fuel packs a lot of energy for its weight and it is this energy density that has really enabled commercial flight. Today, there aren’t any other viable options for transporting groups of people quickly over very long distances, so we’re dependent on this type of fuel in aviation. A return flight between London and San Francisco has a carbon footprint per economy ticket of nearly 1 tonne of CO2e. With the aviation industry expected to double to over 8 billion passengers by 2050, it is essential that we act to reduce aviation’s carbon emissions and SAF is one way in which Air bp is doing that.
SAF gives an impressive reduction of up to 80% in carbon emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel compared to traditional jet fuel it replaces, depending on the sustainable feedstock used, production method and the supply chain to the airport.
When it comes to sourcing SAF Air bp has a portfolio approach. We agree off-take agreements with third-party producers and this security of demand can help these third parties secure investment. Secondly, we invest in third-party production facilities. Air bp’s collaboration with California-based Fulcrum is one example. Air bp entered into a strategic partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy in 2016 and Fulcrum is building its first plant in Reno, Nevada, which will produce sustainable transport fuel made from household waste. Fulcrum intends to construct additional facilities and will supply Air bp with SAF from several different plants. Thirdly, bp is investing in its own refineries and facilities. One such example is the sale of ISCC plus SAF Air bp announced in July at bp’s Castellon refinery in Spain; and in October 2021 the refinery became the first globally to achieve the ISCC CORSIA certification.
SAF can be blended at up to 50% with traditional jet fuel and all quality tests are completed as per a traditional jet fuel. The blend is then re-certified as Jet A or Jet A-1. It can be handled in the same way as a traditional jet fuel, so no changes are required in the fuelling infrastructure or for an aircraft wanting to use SAF. In 2016, we were the first operator to commence commercial supply of SAF through an existing hydrant fuelling system, at Norway’s Oslo Airport.
Any aircraft certified for using the current specification of jet fuel can use SAF.
To date, Air bp has supplied SAF at over 20 locations across three continents. Air bp’s SAF has been used to fuel many different types of aircraft from small private jets to large passenger aircraft. We have a supply chain established in Sweden, from which we are supplying locations across the region. It was this supply chain that enabled us to fuel Braathens Regional Airlines for its ‘Perfect Flight’ back in May 2019, which combined the latest in aircraft efficiency and the use of SAF to cut lifecycle emissions compared to regular flights on the same route.
SAF is currently more costly than traditional fossil jet fuel. That’s down to a combination of the current availability of sustainable feedstocks and the continuing development of new production technologies. As the technology matures it will become more efficient and so the expectation is that it will become less costly for customers. We are seeing increased uptake of SAF as our customers and their passengers increasingly recognize and value the benefits of the emission reductions.
SAF can drop straight into existing infrastructure and aircraft. It has the potential to provide a lifecycle carbon reduction of up to 80% compared to the traditional jet fuel it replaces. SAF will play a really important role in meeting the aviation industry’s carbon reduction targets, however, we need to use all the options to reduce carbon that we have available. There are several broad opportunities for carbon reduction across the industry such as more efficient aircraft design, smarter operations and the development of future technologies like electrification. In that regard, in 2016 Air bp became the first aviation fuel supplier to be independently certified carbon neutral for into-plane fuelling operations at all its global operated locations.
At the moment, production of SAF is limited as the higher cost for SAF is preventing wider uptake. Air bp is working on helping create more demand in the short-term which will lead to more production and hopefully lower costs in future.
There is real commitment from the industry to reduce carbon emissions, but governments also need to create the right policies to accelerate the growth of SAF. Increasing production requires long-term policy certainty to reduce investment risks, as well as a focus on the research, development and commercialization of improved production technologies and innovative sustainable feedstocks.
On an individual level, some airlines are now providing passengers and corporate customers with the option to fund the use of SAF in order to reduce emissions associated with your ticket, and we think these are really positive initiatives.
The key to greater acceptance and deployment of SAF is reduction in costs. Over the long term, that will require investment in advanced technologies to process feedstocks more efficiently at greater scale and investment in the development of sustainable and scalable feedstock options. However, in the short-term, interim support from governments and other stakeholders through policy incentives is needed. This support needs to be part of a long-term framework to give investors the confidence to make the big investments required to grow supply.
Air bp is at the forefront of the shift towards a lower carbon aviation industry. A valued part of bp’s global energy business, we innovate to shape the aviation fuel business.
One way to make a material reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel is to use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in place of regular jet.