Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are seen as the key driver in decarbonising the airline industry but although responsible for just a small proportion of total aviation emissions, the business aviation sector is keen to play an important role in advancing the global uptake of SAF to support carbon reduction goals. It recently brought together SAF producers, aircraft manufacturers, business jet operators and policymakers to discuss the next steps to increase uptake at its first-ever European Business Aviation SAF Summit, reports Susan van Dyk. The sector is keen for policy support to incentivise the SAF value chain and make the production, purchase and use of SAF more accessible and affordable, with provision for a robust book-and-claim system to ensure all business aviation operators have the opportunity to benefit from the emission reductions afforded by SAF. The much-anticipated upcoming release of the ReFuelEU Aviation legislative proposal will aim to establish a regulatory framework to stimulate SAF production and uptake, with a blending mandate likely to be a policy cornerstone. The virtual Summit was notable for the first details emerging of how the mandate could be implemented.
In an opening keynote, EU Transport Commissioner Adina-Ioana Vălean said the use of SAF was one of the key ways the aviation sector could contribute to climate targets and must account for an increasing share of the fuel mix over time to reach more than 60% by 2050.
“Unfortunately, production is still at a very early stage and remains close to 0.5% of total jet fuel use,” she said. “I’m confident, however, that our upcoming ReFuelEU Aviation initiative will take us to the next level. I hope it will significantly boost both production and uptake of SAF by establishing a long-term regulatory framework at the European level and avoid reliance on national initiatives.
“Blending seems the best way to increase SAF production over time. We are currently looking at possible designs, with the aim of adopting legislative proposals before the summer. Targets will be binding on the one hand but on the other they must be realistic, initially modest but becoming more ambitious beyond 2030.”
Vălean suggested synthetic fuels, which include e-fuels, would become one of the main routes to decarbonising aviation. Measures would be needed to develop the market, including targeted financial support, help with fuel certification and ensuring fair competition, she said. Discussions must also accelerate in global fora like ICAO and convince “our third country aviation partners” that SAF was the right choice to ensure the sector had a sustainable future, she told the virtual conference.
“The cost for clean fuels must be shared as fairly as possible. Airlines and aircraft operators will probably end up paying a little more for their fuel but the increase should be modest,” she said. “The challenge is huge but we know what we need to do and we need to start now as 2030 is just around the corner.”
Filip Cornelis, Director of Aviation at the European Commission, said he believed a blending mandate to be the best option to address the “chicken and egg problem and help the demand and supply curves to meet somewhere.” A blending mandate across the EU would boost demand for SAF and maintain and create a level playing field for airlines and operators, he added. In designing the regulation, Cornelis indicated the Commission “wanted to be ambitious and realistic at the same time.”
The mandate is likely be in the form of a percentage blend that can then be gradually increased over time, with reports suggesting it would start with a modest target of 2% in 2025 and increasing more rapidly in five-year stages up to 2050. The requirement would also likely fall on fuel suppliers rather than airlines and other aircraft operators, and apply to all departing flights regardless of destination
“We want to have the maximum scope and probably not limit ourselves to internal flights, but all flights that depart from European airports,” said Cornelis. When questioned about the potential political implications of covering international flights, he suggested that by supplying the blend at every airport, all flights would automatically uplift SAF and so maintain a level playing field.
Cornelis reported the Commission expects to implement a simple enforcement instrument without a take-up obligation on individual airlines. If the blend is supplied everywhere, the uptake by individual airlines would not need to be verified. Airlines and operators will need access to data on the amount and type of SAF uptake so that they can receive credits under the EU ETS and CORSIA, he said.
Nicolas Kroll, Head of Sustainability Projects at Luxaviation Group, welcomed a simple regulation design, as business aviation is made up of small operators and a minimum additional administrative burden would be preferred. He also pointed out that claiming of credits for SAF purchases has not been clear and regulations that simplify this process will be welcomed.
Regarding the types of eligible fuels, Cornelis indicated the ReFuelEU regulations would probably rely on the general sustainability framework of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive. By 2050, Cornelis predicted high volumes of SAF will still be required in spite of technologies such as hydrogen aircraft, probably at blends higher than 50%. Most of these will have to be e-fuels, said Cornelis, and indicated a sub-mandate for e-fuels was being considered as this technology had a significant price handicap compared to other technologies. Without a sub-mandate, e-fuels may not be able to enter the market in any significant way, whereas In the long-term, the bulk of SAF is expected to come from these fuels as they can provide very high emission reductions, he said.
Andrew Murphy, Aviation Director at Transport & Environment, welcomed the ReFuelEU initiative, stating “the sooner the regulations are there, the sooner we can begin to unlock the investment needed to bring these fuels up.” Murphy believes that e-fuels, also known as power-to-liquid, is the only technology that can be sufficiently scaled up to provide the large volumes of SAF required for decarbonisation without requiring land use.
Arvid Loken, Senior Advisor, Carbon Reduction Programme at airport operator Avinor, provided insight into the practical implementation of Norway’s 0.5% SAF mandate, which came into effect from January 2020. The mandate is applicable to domestic and international flights as the obligation is on the fuel supplier. Designed to be flexible and allow cooperation between fuel suppliers, the supplier can source the SAF at any location and provide the whole volume at one airport during any period of time, he said.
Business aviation members stressed the importance of including a book-and-claim system in the regulations, particularly as physical production and supply of SAF was still at an early stage. As John-Angus Smith, Managing Director EMEA region at Signature Aviation explained, it will allow customers “to purchase SAF where it is not available while the fuel is dispensed elsewhere.”
Production of SAF that is locally inserted into the fuel supply reduces logistics and increases sustainability, he said. Book-and-claim is a “virtual purchase and claim of sustainability” and the credit is taken at a different location by the buyer, he explained. “So it fills the local availability gap and will enable, in our view, the expansion of the market.”
This would be a “double win” for the sector, believes Smith, as the operator can lower its footprint but also help the overall sector meet its goals. “It is a physical reduction of emissions even though it is a virtual purchase and that is why it is such an important tool for us as an industry going forward,” he said.
MEP Jan-Christoph Oetjen, who is Vice-Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, argued SAF was not only key in decarbonising aviation but could also reduce its non-CO2 climate impact effects. “Aviation decarbonisation is an important part of the Green Deal and the clear commitment from the business aviation sector is very important to achieve these goals,” he said.
To coincide with the Summit, a coalition of business aviation partners focused on increasing awareness and utilization of SAF within the sector released a commitment detailing its vision and proposed strategy for SAF uptake.
Photo: Signature Aviation