US government departments and agencies have joined with the aviation and fuel sectors to agree a stimulus package to put US aviation on track to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It includes new and ongoing funding opportunities to support sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) projects and fuel producers totalling up to $4.3 billion in efforts to boost production of SAF to at least 3 billion gallons per year by 2030 under a ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge’ initiative. Through their trade body A4A, US airlines pledged in March to work towards making 2 billion gallons of SAF available by 2030 but are now increasing that goal by an additional 50%. The Biden administration also announced its backing for a SAF tax credit to incentivise and scale up production as part of its Build Back Better green agenda. Also announced were an increase in R&D activities on new technologies to spur developments in aircraft fuel efficiency and efforts to improve air traffic and airport efficiency. The administration said it would be strengthening its aviation and climate change leadership internationally and will support the adoption at ICAO of a long-term aspirational goal for reducing aviation emissions.
“President Biden is taking steps to coordinate leadership and innovation across the federal government, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, fuel producers, airports and non-governmental organisations to advance the use of cleaner and more sustainable fuels in American aviation,” said a White House fact sheet released after a roundtable on sustainable aviation held on September 9. “These new agency steps and industry partnerships will transform the aviation sector, create good-paying jobs, support American agriculture and manufacturing, and help us tackle the climate crisis.”
Responded A4A President Nicholas Calio, who attended the White House meeting: “We are proud of our record on climate change, but we know the climate change challenge has only continued to intensify. Accordingly, A4A member carriers have embraced the need to take even bolder, more significant steps to address the climate crisis.”
Commercial flights contribute 11% of US transportation-related emissions and 2% of the nation’s total. “Without increased action, aviation’s share of emissions is likely to increase as more people and goods fly. That is why leadership and innovation in this sector is so essential if we hope to put the aviation industry, and the economy on track to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” says the Biden administration.
“Achieving a sustainable aviation industry requires energy efficiency improvements in aircraft technology and better operations. In the future, electric and hydrogen-powered aviation may unlock affordable and convenient local and regional travel. But for today’s long-distance travel, we need bold partnerships to spur the deployment of billions of gallons of sustainable aviation fuels quickly.”
Current levels of domestic SAF production are around 4.5 million gallons per year. Jet fuel consumption from domestic and outgoing international flights totalled 19.2 billion gallons in 2019, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, still lower than peak consumption years but had been edging up since 2015 prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. A 3-billion-gallon goal therefore represents a 15% share of total jet fuel consumption being taken up by SAF in 2030, if based on 2019. The actions taken, says the administration, will enable aviation emissions to drop 20% by 2030 when compared to business as usual if the goal is met.
The proposed SAF tax credit requires a minimum 50% reduction in lifecycle GHG emissions and so offers an increased incentive for greater reductions. The Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Transportation (DOT) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are to support SAF producers through the new Grand Challenge initiative in order to work with stakeholders to reduce costs, enhance sustainability and expand production and use of SAF that meets the 50% lifecycle reduction. In addition to the 2030 goal, the target is to meet 100% of aviation fuel demand with SAF by 2050, which is currently projected to be around 35 billion gallons per year. In a series of actions to be taken:
- USDA will support US farmers with climate-smart agriculture practices and research, including biomass feedstock genetic development, sustainable crop and forest management at scale, and post-harvest supply chain logistics. USDA will also support fuel producers with carbon modelling components of aviation biofuel feedstocks.
- The Environmental Protection Agency and DOE will collaborate to identify data collection needs, assess technical information and take other steps designed to expedite the regulatory approval process to support newly developed fuels and feedstocks that might be viable for inclusion as able to generate Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) under renewable fuel in the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard programme.
- The FAA will make 14 grant awards with FY21 funds to the Aviation Sustainability Center (ASCENT) totalling more than $3.6 million. This will support the SAF approval clearing house in conducting evaluation testing to ensure that new fuels are safe for use.
Other funding initiatives include the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office’s already announced $35 million for 11 projects developing feedstock and algae technologies for advancing the domestic bioeconomy, plus a new additional $61 million to advance biofuels and support the reduced cost of SAF pathways, including 11 projects that are scaling up promising technologies to produce SAF. The DOE is also offering up to $3 billion in loan guarantees, with commercial-scale SAF projects that utilise innovative technology and avoid, reduce or sequester GHG emissions and meet other requirements potentially eligible. Department of Defense (DOD) funding, subject to appropriations, is to be made available to certify the use of up to four additional SAF pathways already approved in the commercial market, as well as additional SAF pathways in the ASTM approval pipeline for military aircraft.
Further initiatives, collaborations and funding have been announced by NASA, FAA, DOD and DOE to achieve at least a 30% improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency, improving air traffic and airport efficiency to reduce fuel use, eliminate lead exposure and ensure cleaner air in and around airports.
The administration says it plans to release an aviation climate action plan in the coming months. It also commits the United States “to asserting positive leadership on aviation and climate change.
Adds the White House statement: “As a country, we will re-establish US credibility through ambitious domestic commitments and realistic action plans for implementing those commitments, demonstrate leadership on aviation ambition at the International Civil Aviation Organization by showing the world by implementing CORSIA transparently and effectively, and supporting adoption of a long-term aspirational goal for reducing aviation emissions. We will also engage with bilateral and regional partners to forge a diverse coalition of States committed to greater ambition and action on aviation.”
In addition to representation from the aviation and SAF production sectors, the roundtable was also attended by Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of RMI, which are spearheading the recently-formed Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA).
“In the coming months, the administration will be challenged to develop a methodology to determine the environmental criteria to ensure that only high-integrity SAF receives public support. The administration’s call for credibility and consistency with the international community, including ICAO, makes us optimistic. EDF and our partners in SABA are up to the task of ensuring that SAF contributes effectively to decarbonisation,” said Pedro Piris-Cabezas, EDF’s Director for Sustainable International Transport.
Photo: Alaska Airlines