Accelerated decarbonization of the aviation sector is achievable if Sustainable Aviation Fuels follow the same trajectory as wind and solar. Image: Boom Supersonic
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- Air travel connects the world, but emissions from the aviation sector are responsible for a large part of humankind's carbon footprint.
- Accelerated decarbonization of the aviation sector is achievable if Sustainable Aviation Fuels follow the same trajectory as wind and solar.
Air travel connects the world, linking people, culture, and ultimately enabling global economies to prosper. The aviation industry recognises that it must continue to deliver these benefits while reducing environmental impacts, and the sector has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier. How can we achieve these ambitious, but crucial, goals? The good news is that if aviation sustainability follows the same trajectory as wind and solar, the industry can achieve these goals—however, much work and investment remains.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is an immediate and scalable solution to decarbonising the industry. As a quick primer, SAF is a mix of hydrocarbons that is chemically similar to conventional jet fuel but not derived from fossil fuels. SAF instead relies on carbon atoms from organic and waste materials known as feedstocks. These include waste oils, algae, forest residues, municipal solid waste, and industrial gasses, as well as atmospheric CO2. By utilising carbon that exists in or would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere, SAF can lower CO2 emissions from aviation by up to 100% compared to conventional jet fuel.
What is the World Economic Forum doing to help aviation meet net zero goals?
Although it’s frequently talked about today, currently SAF accounts for less than 1% of fuel used on airplanes, making it an easy target for critics who say that achieving the volumes required to support commercial aviation are years or decades out.
A new white paper published by Boom Supersonic - Scaling Sustainable Aviation Fuel Production - shows that a rapid scaling of SAF production to fully satisfy demand is possible in the 2035-2040 timeframe if the public and private sectors align.
To understand how this growth can be achieved, Boom Supersonic’s Dr. Akshay Ashok, and Ben Murphy, studied patterns across other renewable energy industries. They identified key drivers that contributed to the success of exponential growth of wind and solar and applied these proven trajectories to the SAF industry. Scaling Sustainable Aviation Fuel Production shows how the same key drivers can be applied to the SAF industry to enable its exponential growth.
The SAF industry displays all hallmarks of the early-stage exponential growth patterns observed in other renewable energy industries, specifically solar and wind electricity generation, battery storage, and renewable ground transportation fuels. These industries saw exponential growth of between 30% to 55% per year during their fastest 10-year growth periods.
How is the World Economic Forum promoting sustainable and inclusive mobility systems?
Industry, governments, and researchers have already taken impactful initial steps to support the growth of the industry—investments into pilot SAF facilities; government incentives such as the recent U.S. SAF Blenders Tax Credit; the establishment of R&D programmes, and the like.
Governments and industry must continue to work together to achieve growth:
Early adoption, buy-in, and investment
Early buy-in and committed investments are critical to stimulating demand in the SAF market. Airlines should continue to lean in on early SAF purchase agreements, and SAF producers should continue to invest in new production facilities and to work with airlines to meet this demand. Governments should bolster demand for SAF through the expansion of early purchase commitments. Manufacturers should support the entire SAF value chain and promote use of SAF wherever feasible, as well as ensure product compatibility with advanced SAF.
Sustained R&D funding
Continued R&D funding will be necessary to drive innovation. These programs should target reducing feedstock procurement costs and increasing conversion efficiencies; maturing emerging low- and zero-carbon SAF technologies and increasing SAF blend limits.
Ultimately, sustainable technologies can and should stand on their own economically. However, just as with other renewable technologies, government incentives will be key to accelerating progress—supporting early demand and capital investments through supplier-side tax credits.
Consistent long-term policy
Consistent and long-lasting policy direction is imperative for SAF scalability. Renewable fuel policies must be developed and implemented with a holistic view of the transportation industry. Policy measures should be created to promote SAF production relative to other renewable liquid fuels, given the lack of alternative decarbonisation options for aviation. Low-carbon fuel programs must be expanded geographically as well to include power-to-liquid and advanced biofuel SAF pathways.
Variations on these four core mechanisms are widely cited as being critical to achieving rapid decarbonisation of the aviation sector. The Mission Possible Partnership’s Making Net-Zero Aviation Possible shows similar mechanisms could rapidly scale SAF by 2045, and climate leaders like Nora Lovell Marchant agree that widespread decarbonisation is possible with this approach.
At Boom Supersonic, we’re committed to making the world more accessible with our supersonic airliner, Overture—optimised for speed, safety, and sustainability. It’s designed to operate on 100% SAF while flying at twice the speed of today’s fastest passenger jets.
To accelerate SAF and to make the industry more sustainable, collaboration is vital. Boom is actively engaging with airline customers and other partners across the SAF value chain. Such actions by industry and government are crucial to scaling SAF and enabling the aviation industry to achieve its net zero carbon goals, and will allow aviation to continue to play its vital role in the global economy while protecting the climate.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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