Helping Sustainable Aviation Fuel Take Off

Recently with Neste’s support, the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center released an in-depth report focused on pragmatic policy measures to encourage the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in the United States. 

Currently, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is largely included as an add-on to existing renewable fuels policies that focus on addressing emissions from ground transportation. While ground transportation is certainly a priority, SAF is challenged as a newer technology to compete with other renewable fuels. 

However, as the world grapples with a post-COVID-19 recovery and the appetite for travel continues to increase, the time is now to remove the barriers on SAF, so that it can truly take off in North America.

The SAF Situation

U.S. aviation (airlines, general and business aviation, the US military) currently accounts for 2.6 percent of total domestic emissions and 9 percent of the emissions from the broader U.S. transportation sector. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, continued U.S. aviation expansion is expected: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) forecasts an increase in U.S. airline passengers from 917 million in 2019 to 1.31 billion in 2039—43 percent growth over a 20-year period. 

Over the same period, the FAA projects that jet fuel consumption will increase from 24.08 billion gallons to 30.64 billion gallons. While the trajectory of this growth is expected to be delayed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, over the long run it is anticipated that growth will return.

With the increase in emissions, the necessity for SAF couldn’t be clearer. Sustainable aviation fuel emits up to 80 percent less carbon dioxide on a lifecycle basis  and significantly less pollutants compared to conventional jet fuel. Globally, more than forty airlines now have SAF experience, with an estimated 200,000 commercial flights using SAF since 2011 and 1.6 billion gallons of SAF committed to forward purchase agreements. 

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While the aviation industry continues to express interest in SAF, policy priorities need to walk hand-in-hand for a truly green future. The Atlantic Council identified five key policy actions that need to be implemented for SAF to have a viable future in North America. These actions include:

  • Attract Capital to Expand SAF Supply
  • Assist SAF Facility Operation
  • Recognize SAF environmental benefits through carbon pricing and other systems
  • Create structural SAF demand
  • Demonstrate U.S. government commitment to SAF to encourage project development

Neste and SAF

Neste believes that sustainable aviation fuel is competitive in an even playing field where all aviation fuels must account for lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. In addition, we expect that costs will continue to come down as the industry scales production capacity and finds efficiencies. 

Neste has been doing its part to support the production of SAF for nearly a decade. Currently, Neste is the world’s leading producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel. We’ve already been supplying SAF to airlines across Europe, and recently started commercial sales of sustainable aviation fuel in the U.S. in early 2020. 

In fact, the first batch of Neste’s sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) was safely delivered to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) using existing pipelines. Neste's SAF will help power flights out of SFO operated by major U.S. airlines that have committed to reduce carbon emissions. .

To find out more about how Neste makes sustainable aviation fuel and how it  works, watch the below presentation by Pratik Chandhoke,  Neste's Technical Manager for Renewable Aviation in North America.  He walks through the entire value-chain: from raw material collection, through processing and finally to distribution.  Additionally, Pratik talks about why sustainable aviation fuel works seamlessly with existing aircraft engines and airport infrastructure, and how Neste works closely with airlines, airports, and regulators to test and certify the safety of sustainable aviation fuel. 

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The Future Is Bright

Neste sees significant growth potential for renewable fuels in the aviation market. Demand is there – from airlines, business aviation, and end customers. What sets SAF apart from other low carbon solutions for the aviation industry is that it's a today solution that  works with existing engines and infrastructure. 

That is why we have set an ambitious target to bring online more than 340 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel production capacity by 2022, a big increase from our current production capacity of 30 million gallons. 

As the Atlantic Council put it, “the time is now” to invest and enact policies that will allow sustainable aviation fuel to finally spread its wings and take off.