Sustainable Aviation Fuels II – Technological Landscape

Posted in: biofuels

In this second instalment in the SAF series, we will look at the current technological pathways used to produce SAF. We will also look at hydrogen-based technologies which are being actively researched.

In the previous instalment of the Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) article series, we had a look at the current SAF policy landscape on the global scale, as well as in the EU and in the United Kingdom. We saw that legislative support for SAF incorporation remains very recent, and that Europe and North America are currently leading the way in this aspect. In this second article, we shed some more light on the current technological tools available for the production of SAF, as well as the main technologies being explored for future use. We show that although Asia and Africa lag behind other regions in terms of policy support, they are both aiming to place themselves at the forefront of feedstocks supply for the production of aviation fuels.

Several technologies have been developed for the production of SAF, all with varying degrees of GHG emission reductions. These technologies are often patented by producers and key players within the SAF supply sector. However, there remain similarities between them all. Most approved SAF fuels are drop-in fuels which can be blended with conventional petroleum-derived fuels at high inclusion rates, and used in conventional engines. Contrary to sustainable fuel types commonly used for road transport where inclusion rates are limited by conventional fuels standards, Many SAF fuels can be blended to high concentrations of up to 50%. In addition, SAF can make a significant impact in the fight to reduce GHG emissions by reducing life-cycle emissions by as much as 80%. In addition to established fuels such as HVO and ethanol-derived SAF, e-fuels and zero emissions hydrogen-based fuels are being actively researched. Although these are yet to make it to the market, the ambition is to have the world’s first zero fuel emission commercial aircraft by 2035.

In this article, we start by providing an overview of the main feedstocks used for the production of sustainable aviation fuels. Then, we cover the main technologies being used to produce SAF in more detail. In addition, we look at two promising innovations which are likely to bring the sector even further in its ambition to reduce GHG emissions and to provide zero-emissions commercial flights in the near future.

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

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