Sustainable Aviation Fuels I – Policy Landscape

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In this first article, we will look at the current policy landscape designed to promote the global development and the incorporation of SAF, and specifically development in the EU and UK.

Transport currently accounts for 29% of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and for as much as 20% of all global CO2 emissions. More specifically, aviation accounts for 11.6% of all transport CO2 emissions, amounting to 2.5% of worldwide CO2 emissions overall. Commercial air traffic has experienced a constant increase since the start of the 21st century – with the exception of 2020 and 2021 where traffic significantly dropped as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – and is now on track to account for as much as 27% of global carbon emissions by 2050, if nothing is done. As a result of these trends, aviation is now a prime target for sustainable innovation. Multiple low- or zero-carbon technologies are being researched, but in the short term, only sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) can alleviate some of the pressure and significantly reduce the sector’s GHG emissions.

Sustainable aviation fuels are low-carbon fuels manufactured from renewable or low-carbon waste feedstocks. Such feedstocks can include waste vegetable oils, animal fat, agricultural residues or even CO2 produced from non-fossil sources. In addition to providing a valorisation route for enormous quantities of waste, SAF are so-called “drop-in” fuels, meaning that they can be easily blended with conventional fossil-derived fuels and be used in pre-existing engines. There is no need to develop new engines and aircrafts. Thanks to these properties, sustainable aviation fuels are a rapidly growing industry. Market forecasts expect the sector to grow from $67 million in 2020 to $13.8 billion by 2026, registering an increase of 67% annually during the forecast period. Therefore, the sector offers an incredible number of opportunities for industrial stakeholders looking to expand their business portfolio.

The regulatory landscape surrounding SAF is rapidly evolving and provides the bedrock for the exponential expansion of the SAF market. Over the past 6 years, the number of legally binding policies supporting the development of SAF has gone from 1 between 2013 and 2017, to 22 in 2022. With an increasing number of countries pledging net-zero by 2050, low-carbon aviation is becoming a priority area for new policies and environmental strategies.

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This article was written by Thea Allary, Senior Research Analyst at NNFCC.

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