Tom Parsons, Air BP’s Biojet commercial development manager, explains what sustainable aviation fuel is (SAF) and gives his view on whether SAF really is the answer to reducing aviation emissions.
The use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is on the rise, but what is it exactly?
SAF stands for sustainable aviation fuel. It’s produced from sustainable, renewable feedstocks and is very similar in its chemistry to fossil jet fuel. Using SAF results in a reduction of CO2 emissions compared to fossil jet fuel over the lifecycle of the fuel. Some typical feedstocks are;
· Used cooking oil and other non-palm waste oils from animals or plants.
· Household waste – Solid waste from homes and businesses, such as packaging, paper, textiles, and food scraps that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration.
· Other sources including forestry waste (such as waste wood), energy crops (fast growing plants) and algae.
Air BP’s SAF is called BP Biojet and is currently made from used cooking oil and other wastes.
Why is SAF important?
Jet fuel packs a lot of energy for its weight, and it is this energy density that has really enabled commercial flight. There aren’t any other viable options today for transporting groups of people quickly over very long distances, so we’re dependent on this type of fuel in aviation. However, a return flight between London and San Francisco has a carbon footprint per economy ticket of nearly 1 tonne of CO2. That’s the same as driving a diesel car 3750 miles or 6035 kilometres. With the aviation industry expected to double to 8.2 billion passengers by 2037, it is essential that we take action to reduce aviation’s carbon emissions and SAF is one way in which we as an industry are doing that.
How much carbon (CO2) does it save?
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) gives an impressive reduction of up to 80% in CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel compared to fossil jet fuel, depending on the sustainable feedstock used, production method and the supply chain to the airport.
When did Air BP first test SAF?
In 2010 Air BP teamed up with Brazilian airline TAM (now LATAM) for a test flight.
Who does Air BP partner with to make SAF available?
Air BP have announced collaborations with two companies:
Neste – In 2018 we signed an agreement with leading renewable fuel producer Neste, who produce sustainable available fuel made from non-palm oil based used cooking oil and other wastes and residues. Through this collaboration we are developing new SAF supply chains.
Fulcrum – In 2016 Air BP created a strategic partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy with an initial investment of $30 million. The Californian company is building a first plant in Reno, Nevada which will produce low-cost, sustainable fuel made from household waste. Through the partnership Fulcrum will supply us with over 50 million US gallons of SAF per year.
Is it safe to use?
Absolutely. SAF can be blended at up to 50% with fossil jet fuel and all quality tests are completed as per a regular jet fuel. Once blended, SAF has the same characteristics as fossil jet fuel. The blend is then re-certified as Jet A or Jet A-1. It can be handled in exactly the same way as a regular 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 start commercial supply of SAF through an existing hydrant fuelling system, at Norway’s Oslo airport, under our BP Biojet brand.
Is SAF suitable for all aircraft?
Any aircraft certified for using the current specification of jet fuel is able to use SAF. To date, we’ve supplied SAF at 15 locations in five countries 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.
Who has Air BP supplied?
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, which combined the latest in aircraft efficiency and the use of SAF to cut emissions by 46% compared to regular flights on the same route. We have also supplied SAF for Delta Air Lines and Airbus in the US this year as well. In all we have supplied around 20 different customers with SAF so far.
How does the cost of SAF compare to fossil jet fuel?
SAF is currently more costly than 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 recognise and value the benefits of the emission reductions.
Is SAF really the key to making aviation greener?
SAF can drop straight in to existing infrastructure and an aircraft. It provides a lifecycle carbon reduction of up to 80% compared to the fossil jet fuel it replaces. SAF will play a really important role in meeting the aviation industry’s carbon reduction targets. But 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.
So why aren’t more airlines using SAF?
At the moment, production of SAF is limited as the higher cost for SAF is preventing wider uptake. We are working on helping create more demand in the short-term which will lead to more production and hopefully lower costs in future.
How can we accelerate the growth of SAF?
According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) worldwide flights produced 895 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018. There is real commitment from the industry to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment, but governments need to create the right policies to accelerate the growth of SAF. Upscaling production requires long-term policy certainty to reduce investment risks, as well as a focus on the research, development and commercialisation 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 SAF blending directly in order to reduce or fully remove the lifecycle CO2 emissions associated with your ticket, and we think these are really positive initiatives.
Other interesting facts?
Air BP was the first aviation fuel supplier to be independently certified carbon neutral for into-plane fuelling operations at 250 Air BP locations in October 2016