16 April 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

Air New Zealand seeks startup fuel innovators in quest for 20% SAF usage by 2030

Air New Zealand is seeking partnerships with emerging providers of sustainable aviation fuel as part of an expanding programme to reduce its flight emissions through industrial collaboration. Having previously linked with established SAF producers and both aircraft and powertrain manufacturers the airline now wants SAF innovators and start-ups as potential suppliers of low-carbon fuel, which it expects will comprise about 20% of its requirements by 2030. Air New Zealand’s search for SAF partners follows the recent release of a study by Ara Ake, New Zealand’s Future Energy Centre, which examines the merits and disbenefits of future fuels and propulsion systems in reducing domestic aviation emissions. The study concluded that only SAF and green hydrogen could effectively decarbonise New Zealand’s internal flights but the volume of resources needed to produce cleaner fuels might short-change other sectors of the economy. Meanwhile, Australian startup Jet Zero Australia has just secured additional funding to produce SAF from sugar cane waste in Queensland.

Kiri Hannifin, Air New Zealand’s Chief Sustainability Officer, says the airline plays a critical role in connecting its remote homeland to other nations, but must do so more sustainably and quickly. Underpinning its search for innovative new SAF partners it has issued an Opportunity Statement, which provides an overview of its needs based on fleet, network and its sustainability targets and criteria.

“A stable supply of SAF is critical to our ability to reduce carbon emissions,” said Hannifin. “That’s why we’ve taken this novel approach, asking emerging SAF producers from around the world to connect with us and respond to the Opportunity Statement.”

Air New Zealand expects SAF to meet about 20% of its aircraft fuel requirements by 2030, in tandem with “a long term and strategic regulatory package” for which it has long advocated in its Flight NZ0 decarbonisation plan.

The SAF Consortium, a lobby group whose members include Air New Zealand, Z Energy, Scion, LanzaTech and LanzaJet, has argued a local SAF industry could deliver 50% of New Zealand’s aviation fuel demand by 2050, supported by domestically-sourced feedstock, with the balance of SAF imported. It has proposed SAF blending mandates, beginning at 2.5% in 2025 and increasing to 50% in 2050, for both domestic and international flights, and called for government policies including tax credits and grants that prioritise production of SAF over biofuels for road transport.

The national airline says it wants to secure short, medium and long term SAF offtake deals, not only to meet its own needs but also to help drive up demand for the fuels and help mitigate production risks for SAF producers, their investors and financiers.

“Air New Zealand is an ideal airline partner for SAF innovators and producers,” added Hannifin. “We have a mature understanding of SAF, a clear roadmap to meet our targets and the volumes of SAF we need to align with current production capabilities. This Opportunity Statement shares our vision and allows current and future SAF producers to recognise both the opportunity and Air New Zealand’s ambition to become a customer as soon as possible.”

Paralleling Air New Zealand’s global invitation to new SAF producers, Ara Ake, New Zealand’s Future Energy Centre, recently concluded a study of future fuels and propulsion systems to help reduce the country’s domestic aviation emissions. It identified strong technical capabilities for battery-electric, green hydrogen and SAF propulsion, but flagged both enormous production costs and a significant drain on national electricity supplies as major impediments.

The report, led by Ara Ake’s Research and Insights Manager, Dr Jono Barnard, calculated that around 200,000 domestic flights operated each year in New Zealand, roughly 22 per hour, and highlighted a high reliance on aviation because of limited surface transport options outside major cities or provincial centres on the South Pacific nation’s two major islands.    

“Approximately 16 million passengers board these flights to travel a total distance over 80 million kilometres, and flight remains to be among the only options to quickly travel in New Zealand, both intra and inter-island,” said the report. “As a result, New Zealand has among the largest per capita domestic aviation emissions in the world and as easier-to-abate sectors of the economy are decarbonised, domestic aviation’s relative portion of national gross emissions will likely increase.”

Ara Ake concluded that while battery-electric, green hydrogen and SAF power could theoretically deliver significant reductions in domestic flight emissions, only SAF and green hydrogen, or a combination of both, could support all of New Zealand’s internal flights, and even then the large volume of resources required to produce cleaner aviation fuels would deprive other sectors.

The report calculated the average emissions reductions offered by various SAF production pathways, with the current most common, hydro-processed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) at 63%, Fischer-Tropsch biomass conversion at 77%, alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) at 51% and e-SAF, produced with green hydrogen, the most efficient at 85%.

“With e-SAF, in theory there are few constraints on the supply side to produce the required hydrogen and carbon,” explained Ara Ake. “However, the production process is expensive and highly energy-intensive, requiring more than twice the electricity than if domestic aviation was decarbonised with liquid hydrogen and approximately 10 times more than SAF produced using waste biomass.”

In neighbouring north Queensland, Australia, startup renewable energy group Jet Zero Australia has just secured A$29 million ($19m) in additional capital to progress construction of an alcohol-to-jet SAF plant which is targeting annual production of 102 million litres of SAF and 11 million litres of renewable diesel by early 2027. US AtJ producer LanzaJet is also a partner in the project, while the Queensland state government provided a A$760,000 grant to fund a feasibility study of the project.

Investors in the latest funding round included Japanese oil company Idemitsu Kosan, to support not only the Australian development but also the Japanese government’s mandate that by 2030, SAF must comprise 10% of all aviation fuel uplifted in that country. The commitment is the first by Idemitsu in a SAF project outside Japan.

The capital raising was also supported by Airbus and Qantas, both existing investors in the development, called Project Ulysses after a South Pacific butterfly species.

Qantas Group Chief Sustainability Officer Andrew Parker said producing SAF onshore had the potential to create 18,000 jobs and generate A$13 billion in economic benefits annually by 2040, in addition to increasing Australia’s domestic fuel security.

Jet Zero Australia has also entered a 50-50 joint venture with Singapore-based Apeiron AgroCommodities, one of Asia’s largest collectors of used cooking oil, to develop low-intensity feedstocks in Australia to help meet growing demand for renewable fuels.

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