26 September 2023

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

Heathrow offers airlines £38m to support greater use of SAF as government consults on 2040 zero-emission target for airports

London’s Heathrow Airport is making available a £38 million ($46m) fund to encourage airlines using the airport to power their aircraft in part by sustainable aviation fuel, with the incentive aimed at covering up to 50% of the extra cost of SAF compared to conventional jet fuel. The oversubscribed incentive scheme started in 2022 with six airlines participating and Heathrow is now aiming to triple the percentage of SAF used this year to 1.5% and become one of the world’s leading airport users of SAF. English airports are targeted by the UK government to be zero-emission by 2040 and a second consultation has been opened by the Department for Transport (DfT) that aims to gather more information and feedback on the scope of the 2040 goal and the route for implementation. In other UK news, the DfT has announced the five winning proposals for a share of the Advanced Fuels Fund competition, aimed at developing SAF production plants in the UK, and Birmingham Airport and ZeroAvia are to partner on zero-emission flights.

Heathrow says it is the first airport in the world to offer airlines a contribution towards making the extra cost of purchasing SAF and participants in the scheme include IAG, Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, Air France, KLM and JetBlue. The airport says it is committed to progressively increasing the SAF used each year, with the aim of reaching 11% of all fuel by 2030. This year, the incentive is expected to save over 81,000 tonnes of CO2.

“Team Heathrow is now probably the biggest user of SAF in the world, but it is currently all imported,” said the airport’s outgoing CEO, John Holland-Kaye. “If Britain really wants to compete with the scale of ambition and the credible action seen from the US and Europe, supportive government policy is needed, and it is needed now.”

Heathrow says the introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, which includes a tax credit scheme, “is designed to lure SAF investors to America and leaving the UK at risk of missing out on the multi-billion-pound industry.” It is calling for a Contracts for Difference price support mechanism to help cut the price premium and for the UK government to make a decision this year on committing into legislation a 10% mandate for SAF use by 2030.

“Delay could mean the UK SAF industry suffers and cannot keep up internationally,” argues Heathrow. “By delivering both, the UK will see an immediate and tangible impact – with investment, jobs and skills seen right across the UK.”

While details of the proposed SAF mandate are due to be published shortly (see article), which will require having at least five commercial-scale plants under construction in the UK by 2025 to meet the mandate’s target, the government has announced five awards under its £165 million ($200m) Advanced Fuel Fund that will allocate funding to support UK advanced fuels projects until March 2025. The grant funding is to be provided to first-of-a-kind commercial and demonstration scale projects at all development stages up to the start of construction.

With regards to a second application window for the fund, DfT is still considering whether or when further funding windows should proceed. In the event of a second application window, the competition would be open to all eligible projects and not just those already selected.

The five projects receiving funding in the first window are:

  • Alfanar Energy (Lighthouse Green Fuels) – £11,001,00
  • Fulcrum BioEnergy (NorthPoint) – £16,764,000
  • LanzaTech UK (DRAGON) – £24,960,843
  • Velocys (Altalto) – £27,000,000
  • Velocys (e-Alto) – £2,523,094

Commenting on its award, Fulcrum CEO Eric Pryor said: “We applaud the UK government and the DfT for taking another step towards significantly reducing net carbon emissions for hard-to-abate sectors, including aviation, through the support of low-carbon SAF projects, including our Fulcrum NorthPoint facility. This funding furthers our engineering efforts for the plant and well positions Fulcrum for additional project funding for the facility. We look forward to bringing our patented process, technical expertise, IP and experience from the successful commissioning and initial operations of our first commercial-scale plant [in the US] to the UK to make Fulcrum NorthPoint a success.”

In December, Fulcrum announced the successful production of low-carbon synthetic crude oil from landfill waste at its world’s first commercial-scale waste-to-fuels Sierra BioFuels Plant, located in Nevada. The company’s development programme includes plants in Indiana, Texas and the NorthPoint project in the UK.

In other UK airport news, the government is keen to accelerate decarbonisation of airport operations, which would have the co-benefit of significantly decreasing harmful nitrogen and particulate matter concentrations around airports. The government’s Jet Zero strategy calls for domestic aviation to achieve net zero emissions by 2040 and for all airports in England – other UK countries have devolved powers – to be zero-emission by the same year.

According to a decarbonisation report by the UK Airport Operators Association, over two-thirds of airports in England have a zero emissions target for 2040. However, the DfT notes from responses to its first consultation in 2021 “a mixed feedback” on the target, with comments largely around why airports should be treated differently to other similar infrastructure. Some airports suggested a net zero airport operations target may be more appropriate for 2040, rather than zero emissions. On the other hand, some NGOs, environmental groups and consultancies considered the target could be more ambitious and include Scope 3 indirect emissions that an airport does not control but can influence.

The DfT subsequently commissioned Mott MacDonald to undertake a technical feasibility study to support its understanding of the achievability of the 2040 target. The study’s report, published last May, agreed that it was feasible from a technology and commercial perspective for airports to achieve zero carbon emissions from Scope 1, 2 and 3 airport operations by 2040.

The aim of the second consultation, which closes on May 2, is to clearly define which airport operations are and are not in scope, considering the emission sources and responsible entities. The government is also looking at several policy implementation options to achieve the target: a legislative requirement, a voluntary agreement or a commitment by each airport to produce a roadmap to achieve zero emissions by 2040.

“A key aim will be to guarantee that any approach ensures that the optimum outcome is achieved in terms of emissions reductions under the target, while ensuring unnecessary burden on airport operators and other stakeholders is avoided,” says the DfT.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Birmingham Airport has entered a long-term partnership with hydrogen-electric aviation pioneer ZeroAvia that will aim to make possible regular domestic zero-emission flights “in the coming years”. The airport plans to use an area near to its disused terminal building as a potential location for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, testing and operations.

ZeroAvia is currently working on bringing to market a zero-emission system capable of flying 20-seat aircraft 300 nautical miles by 2025, making possible green air travel from Birmingham to destinations like Glasgow, Aberdeen, Belfast and Dublin. It is aiming for an emissions-free, 80-seat aircraft flying up to 1,000 nautical miles by 2027, bringing into range Mediterranean holiday destinations.

The airport said the partnership formed an important part of its journey to becoming a net zero airport by 2033, a target it set out in its carbon roadmap published in 2022.

“Birmingham Airport can be a central spoke in a green flight network in the UK, given that any domestic mainland destination will be reachable from the airport using our first systems in 2025,” said Arnab Chatterjee, VP Infrastructure, ZeroAvia. “Given the commitments of the Jet Zero strategy on domestic aviation, it is fantastic to engage with forward thinking airports that want to be early innovators and developers to deliver the vision of bringing truly clean, quiet and pollution-free flights to the UK.”

Responded the airport’s Chief Finance & Sustainability Officer, Simon Richards: “We could, quite conceivably, see the first hydrogen-powered domestic passenger flight taking off from BHX in a few years. That’s mind-blowing.”

Photo: Heathrow Airport

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