What 6 aviation executives say about an EU sustainable aviation fuel blending mandate

sustainable aviation fuel SAF blending mandate ReFuel EU Aviation European Union airline executives clean energy
Aviation executives agree: a SAF blending mandate can help decarbonize the industry.
Image: Osman Yunus Bekcan/Unsplash
  • The European Union’s announced its “Fit for 55” package of regulatory proposals on 14 July 2021.
  • A part of this plan is a blending mandate for sustainable aviation fuel.
  • Here's what six experts think of the proposal.

The European Union’s “Fit for 55” package of regulatory proposals were announced on 14 July 2021 as part of the EU’s strategy to reduce emissions 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. A central component of this decarbonization plan is a blending mandate for sustainable aviation fuel via the ReFuelEU Aviation initiative.

Sustainable aviation fuels – produced from feedstock ranging from agricultural residue to carbon removed directly from the air – are an essential pillar of aviation’s decarbonization journey. As hydrogen-based fuel systems and electric aviation are still years away – and offsets are only a transitional solution – SAF is aviation’s best option in the near term to reduce its lifecycle carbon emissions. But due to limited production capacity and cost premiums over traditional fossil fuels, SAF currently comprises less than 0.1% of all jet fuel used.

To inform development of ReFuelEU and to move the conversation forward as the measures are debated and refined by the EU, the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow (CST) Coalition published guidelines on 13 July for an effective mandate design, supported by 21 companies across the aviation value chain.

CST is a community platform for leaders throughout the aviation sector to accelerate aviation’s decarbonization – with a particular focus on scaling production and use of sustainable aviation fuels. In October 2020, CST released a joint policy proposal codeveloped with its European members to accelerate SAF deployment, outlining a specific structure for a SAF mandate.

The new and updated report forms three major conclusions to inform design of a potential mandate:

1. SAF production levels can achievably increase to 10% of total EU jet fuel demand by 2030 while adhering to strict sustainability requirements. An EU SAF blending mandate can accordingly reach this level, but requires a number of supporting components, such as preferential feedstock access for the aviation sector and a strong and long-term policy framework to support both airlines and SAF production itself.

SAF blending levels for the proposed European SAF blending mandate
Proposed blending percentages for an EU SAF mandate over time
Image: World Economic Forum

2. A SAF blending mandate can efficiently be implemented via an obligation on fuel suppliers. Due to both logistical considerations and existing regulatory requirements, obligating fuel providers is the easiest method to operationalize a mandate and would help to limit market distortions. Blending targets should also include clear subtargets for advanced production pathways, like PtX, that offer higher decarbonization potential but are not yet as technologically advanced and require continued support.

3. Increasing SAF production will require significant public financial support of EUR 120 billion over 15 years. Although a sizeable sum, the majority would go to advancing development of PtX and other cutting-edge technologies. This support – that could be in the form of development capital or loan guarantees – is required to both de-risk private investments and decrease the cost gap between SAF and conventional fossil-jet, easing the energy transition for all actors across the aviation value chain.

The World Economic Forum asked six CEOs and senior executives for their views on the RefuelEU initiative and a potential SAF blending mandate in Europe – here’s what they said.

“With the right policy measures...10% of global jet fuel can be replaced with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030”

Luis Gallego, CEO, IAG

It’s clear that the adoption of SAF will play a significant role in enabling the airline industry to meet net-zero emissions by 2050.

IAG was the first airline group worldwide to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050. Only by setting demanding targets, acting to reach them, and publishing our progress can we drive the system-wide change that is needed to tackle this global challenge.

Unlike other industries, aviation does not have an immediate alternative to fossil fuels – but we have a clear roadmap that provides robust evidence for how we’re reducing our carbon footprint, including interim targets. We believe sustainable aviation fuels are the only viable opportunity to decarbonize medium- and long-haul flying, as they represent over 70% of aviation’s emissions. Widespread adoption of sustainable aviation fuel can have real impact and we now have an opportunity to significantly ramp up production capacity over the next 10 years.

Comparison of SAF production ramp up forecasts
Comparison of SAF production forecasts over time, by region
Image: World Economic Forum

With the right policy measures in place to stimulate supply, we believe 10% of global jet fuel can be replaced with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030. While this is an ambitious target, we know from the progress we have seen over the last two years that it is achievable.

The key to making this happen is accelerating global production. A commitment at next year’s ICAO General Assembly to reach 10% SAF by 2030 will be a key step forward in getting these SAF plants built.

We cannot achieve our sustainability ambitions alone. Everyone in the ecosystem, from manufacturers, air traffic control to fuel companies and governments, needs to play their part.

“Mandates must be part of a wider strategy across the sector”

Anna Mascolo, President, Global Aviation, Shell

The aviation industry must commit to increased investment in the development of sustainable aviation fuels if it is to cut carbon emissions and reach its net-zero emissions ambition – there is no time to lose.

Shell fully supports industry and governments working together to introduce ambitious and feasible blending mandates.

Mandates must be part of a wider strategy across the sector. We need commercially viable solutions to help overcome the cost challenges through a comprehensive regulatory regime that encourages consistent customer demand and provides fiscal support to drive infrastructure development, new technologies and SAF production plants.

At Shell, we are playing our part with a broad range of plans for SAF production using different technologies. We will use our size, scale and expertise to help our customers decarbonize.

If there’s a “silver bullet” to decarbonizing aviation, it’s sustainable aviation fuels

Brian Moran, Sustainability Public Policy and Partnerships, Boeing

Aerospace connects the world and is expected to grow to over 10 billion passengers a year in 2050. As an industry, we largely agree that we must earn our license to grow and decarbonize aviation so we can enjoy the social and economic benefits that come with air travel. Boeing believes it requires a multi-faceted approach, including airline fleet renewals, continued network operational efficiencies, advanced technology and a transition to renewable energy.

Renewable energy comes in various forms: sustainable aviation fuels, hydrogen, batteries. Boeing has vast experience with all three and we can say with certainly that, if there’s a silver bullet to decarbonizing aviation, it’s SAF, given it is in regular use today and offers the most immediate and largest potential to reduce carbon emissions over the next 20 to 30 years.

Feasibility assessment results - SAF output by technology pathway
Projection of SAF use ramp-up curve over time and by production technology pathway
Image: World Economic Forum

That’s why we announced that our commercial airplanes will be capable and certified to fly on 100% sustainable aviation fuels by 2030. We worked across industry to qualify and conduct biofuel test flights in 2008 and gain approval for commercial use in 2011. In 2018, the Boeing ecoDemonstrator flight test program made the world’s first commercial airplane flight using 100% sustainable fuels with a 777 Freighter, in collaboration with FedEx Express.

The momentum must continue. Government support and policy incentives for the private sector are critical to enable a transition to widespread pathways and production of sustainable aviation fuels. Government has a vital role in providing a clear, dedicated path to commercialization of SAF and supporting a diverse and sustainable feedstock supply. Effective European policy mechanisms can aid the wider adoption of SAF across Europe, increase production and supply capacity as well as lowering the cost of sustainable fuel production. Driving towards SAF that is price-competitive with conventional fuel is the key that could unlock much wider use by airlines and accelerate production scale up.

An EU SAF mandate is a “win-win for climate and air quality”

Jimmy Samartzis, CEO, LanzaJet

Rapid scale-up of SAF is needed this decade to put the aviation industry on a trajectory to achieve its ambitious climate goals. An aggressive but achievable EU SAF mandate will significantly reduce aviation’s climate and air quality impacts and catalyze the development of a new European SAF industry.

While SAF can reduce GHG emissions by 80% or more, the significant air quality and non-CO2 climate benefits of SAF bolster the case for an EU SAF mandate. Emerging scientific research indicates that the largest contributor to aviation’s climate impact – up to two times the climate impact of aviation CO2 – is from “contrail cirrus,” the warming from contrails formed by aviation exhaust at high altitude.

Fortunately, SAF synergistically addresses both CO2 emissions and non-CO₂ impacts from contrail cirrus, demonstrating the benefits of channeling clean, low carbon liquid fuels to the aviation sector. A recent study from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and NASA found that SAF can reduce contrails by 70%, offering immediate and additional climate benefits beyond conventional CO2 reductions.

Further, SAF clears the air while benefitting the climate. A recent synthesis of aircraft emission measurement studies found that a 50% SAF blend with conventional jet fuel reduces aircraft particulate emissions by up to 65% and oxides of sulfur by nearly 40%. These conventional emissions reductions can be specifically targeted at communities adjacent to airports that have historically been disproportionately burdened with pollution.

An EU-wide SAF mandate will help the aviation industry reduce CO₂, non-CO₂ and conventional air quality impacts, offering a win-win for climate and air quality. Importantly, a SAF mandate establishes a strong demand driver for SAF, enabling the production of much-needed SAF for today’s immediate airline needs and supporting the investments in technology deployment and scale-up needed to enable aviation decarbonization.

“If we want to keep flying, we need to step up”

Maarten van Dijk, Managing Director, SkyNRG

The proposed sustainable aviation fuel mandate marks an important step towards reducing fossil jet fuel consumption in Europe, and through it, the EU is showing clear leadership in decarbonizing the aviation sector. Without a strong, long-term demand signal, it is unlikely the needed carbon reductions will be realized. Also, with the proposed regulation, the European Commission gives the sector what it has been asking for over the last decade: a long-term, stable policy mechanism that creates a level playing field with other European renewable energy regulations.

Of course, it is easy to question the feasibility of these targets, but all significant change needs to start somewhere, and in our opinion, these targets are ambitious but realistic.

Announced projects in Europe with SAF production capacity, 2020-2025
Existing and announced sustainable fuel production facilities in Europe with SAF production capacity 2020-2025
Image: World Economic Forum

Based on internal SkyNRG analysis of the SAF production capacity landscape, we conclude that up to 2030, the targets can be met with existing and announced production capacity. Although a scenario in which the EU supplies its own SAF with EU -based production capacity is possible, it is more likely SAF imports are needed to meet the mandated volumes towards 2030. In any case, there will be a heavy reliance on waste oils as feedstock and both the HEFA and co-processing technology pathways. Building on Clean Skies for Tomorrow analysis, we recognize that to meet the demand targets after 2030, there is need for rapid commercial deployment of different SAF technologies (e.g., Fischer-Tropsch, Alcohol to Jet, Power-to-Liquid, etc.), large scale sustainable feedstock mobilization, deployment of green hydrogen production capacity and related renewable electricity scale-up.

Aviation cannot do this alone. All stakeholders should contribute to the decarbonization of the sector. If we want to keep flying, we need to step up to the challenges ahead and take responsibility. Governments, investors, industry and corporates, as well as individual travelers. Are you ready to play your part?

“Rapid adoption of these proposals is key to securing the long-term license to operate and growth of the aviation industry”

Peter Vanacker, President and CEO, Neste

Neste supports the outstanding work being done by the World Economic Forum and the Clean Skies for Tomorrow (CST) Coalition. This has led to a sound analysis and development of proposals to drive forward the much needed decarbonisation of aviation.

To reduce aviation emissions, CST supports the supply and use of sustainable aviation fuel. Mechanisms to promote the use of SAF include mandating a growing share of aviation fuel to be SAF, adopting a broad approach to the use of sustainable feedstocks, incentives and globally recognized SAF certification schemes. Rapid adoption of these proposals is key to securing the long-term license to operate and growth of the aviation industry.

All stakeholders need to play their part to help de-carbonize aviation: governments, investors, industry and corporates as well as individual travelers.

Aviation

What is the World Economic Forum doing to reduce aviation's carbon footprint?

As other sectors proceed to decarbonize, the aviation sector could account for a much higher share of global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century than its 2%-3% share today.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) can reduce the life-cycle carbon footprint of aviation fuel by up to 80%, but they currently make up less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption. Enabling a shift from fossil fuels to SAFs will require a significant increase in production, which is a costly investment.

The Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow (CST) Coalition is a global initiative driving the transition to sustainable aviation fuels as part of the aviation industry’s ambitious efforts to achieve carbon-neutral flying.

The coalition brings together government leaders, climate experts and CEOs from aviation, energy, finance and other sectors who agree on the urgent need to help the aviation industry reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The coalition aims to advance the commercial scale of viable production of sustainable low-carbon aviation fuels (bio and synthetic) for broad adoption in the industry by 2030. Initiatives include a mechanism for aggregating demand for carbon-neutral flying, a co-investment vehicle and geographically specific value-chain industry blueprints.

Learn more about the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition's impact and contact us to find out how you can get involved.

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