Travel and Tourism

How Singapore can lead the way on scaling up sustainable aviation fuels

a plane flies through the sky in a story about sustainable aviation fuels

Industry roadmaps suggest that sustainable aviation fuel supply must scale by around 1,600 times to reach net zero. Image: Unsplash/John McArthur

Laia Barbarà
Acting Head, Climate Strategy, World Economic Forum
Robert Boyd
Project Fellow, First Movers Coalition Aviation Sector, World Economic Forum Geneva
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • The aviation industry is working hard to decarbonize and the adoption and scale-up of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are vital to these efforts.
  • The First Movers Coalition for Aviation hosted a workshop to explore potential for accelerating 'super-SAF' usage in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
  • Here we outline four ways that Singapore is already a sustainable aviation hub and how it is ideally placed to lead regional decarbonization efforts.

As the world grapples with the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the aviation industry is undertaking strong efforts to decarbonize. In doing so, the adoption and scale-up of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) is gaining momentum globally.

In this article, we delve into the situational analysis of sustainable aviation fuels in Singapore and the wider Southeast Asia region. We explore the current landscape, challenges, opportunities and potential pathways to accelerate the adoption of SAF in this crucial part of the world that will experience the biggest demand growth.

Governments, airlines and airports have committed to net zero by 2050, and for that to happen, industry roadmaps suggest that sustainable aviation fuel supply must scale by around 1,600 times.

While progress is strong in the US and Europe, Southeast Asia (SEA) will be the demand epicentre for air travel over the next decades and the region needs champion countries to lead the SAF commercialization efforts. Singapore is ideally positioned to assume the regional leadership role.

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The First Movers Coalition, led by the World Economic Forum, recently conducted a workshop on “Accelerating the Supply of SAF in Singapore”, as a session during Ecosperity Week. It highlighted the importance of collaboration, what is at stake and sought to forge relationship and seed business agreements to produce high carbon intensity (CI) reduction SAF in the near to medium term.

Since around $500 billion in investment will be required in SEA over the next 27 years, the workshop also engaged financial institutions in this opportunity while discussing with policy-makers the vital role of their interventions in managing the SAF scale-up.

Singapore can drive change on sustainable aviation

The situational analysis of sustainable aviation fuels in Singapore and the wider Southeast Asia region reveals both challenges and opportunities. While regulatory frameworks, feedstock availability, technological innovation and financing pose obstacles, initiatives like the First Movers Coalition for Aviation offer a pathway forward.

By adopting supportive policies, investing in research and infrastructure, and embracing collaboration, Southeast Asian countries can accelerate the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels.

Singapore is ideally positioned given the country is already a refinery hub, an aviation hub and a financial hub – with all of them being extremely relevant to become a sustainable aviation fuels centre.

The sector’s transition is vital for the region to achieve its sustainability goals and contribute to global efforts in combating climate change.

The First Movers Coalition, as a leading platform for dialogue and collaboration, can play a pivotal role in facilitating discussions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation in SAF. Together, we can shape a more sustainable future for aviation in Singapore, Southeast Asia and beyond.

Here are four reasons why Singapore is well-placed as a sustainable aviation hub:

1. Current landscape of sustainable aviation fuels

Regulatory environment: Singapore, as a global aviation hub, recognizes the importance of sustainable practices. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has established an SAF Taskforce and introduced incentives to encourage airlines to use sustainable aviation fuels. In addition, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have initiated discussions and policy frameworks to support SAF adoption across the region.

Production and supply chain: The production and supply chain of sustainable aviation fuels pose significant challenges. Currently, there are limited sustainable aviation fuel production facilities in Southeast Asia, and Singapore has virtually no feedstock available resulting in a heavy reliance on imported feedstocks from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Developing local production capabilities and securing a stable supply chain are critical for scaling up SAF adoption.

2. Challenges and opportunities

Feedstock availability: The availability of sustainable feedstocks is a key challenge for SAF production. Southeast Asia possesses abundant biomass resources, including waste oils, agricultural residues and non-food crops. However, efficient collection, processing and sourcing of these feedstocks need to be addressed to ensure a reliable supply that follows a thorough sustainability criteria.

Technological innovation: Investing in research and development is crucial to overcome technological barriers and make sustainable aviation fuel production economically viable. Collaborations between governments, academia, and industry stakeholders can drive innovation in feedstock conversion technologies, making them more efficient and cost-effective. CAAS is a very active actor, driving cross-sectoral partnerships to advance the deployment of SAFs.

Investment and financing: The high upfront costs associated with SAF production facilities often deter private sector investments. Governments and financial institutions can play a pivotal role by providing incentives, grants and loan guarantees to attract capital investment. Public-private partnerships and blended finance models can unlock the necessary funding for infrastructure development and research.

Collaboration and knowledge sharing: To accelerate sustainable aviation fuel adoption, collaboration and knowledge sharing are paramount. Governments, industry players, research institutions and international organizations should facilitate information exchange, best practices and capacity-building initiatives. Forums like the World Economic Forum and its cross-sectoral initiatives like the First Movers Coalition or the Airports of Tomorrow initiative can foster dialogue and create platforms for cross-sectoral collaboration.

3. Pathways to accelerate sustainable aviation fuel adoption

Policy support: Southeast Asian governments can enact supportive policies and regulations to encourage SAF adoption. This includes setting targets for sustainable aviation fuel use, implementing carbon pricing mechanisms, and providing long-term incentives for airlines to invest in SAF. A regional framework led by ASEAN could facilitate harmonized policies and standards across member states.

Innovation and infrastructure development: Investing in research and development, pilot projects and demonstration facilities can drive technological innovation and improve the efficiency of sustainable aviation fuel production processes. Governments should prioritize the development of infrastructure for SAF production, storage and distribution to ensure a reliable supply chain.

Public-private partnerships: Collaborations between governments, airlines, fuel suppliers and investors can expedite the deployment of SAF. Governments can provide policy support and create an enabling environment, while industry players can invest

4. First Movers Coalition for Aviation

The First Movers Coalition for Aviation (FMC) is an initiative aimed at driving the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels. Comprised of governments, airlines and businesses, the coalition seeks to catalyse the scale-up of “super-SAF” production and use – these are sustainable aviations fuels with 85% or greater life cycle assessment greenhouse gas emission reduction.

In the context of Southeast Asia, the First Movers Coalition resents a valuable opportunity for collaboration and knowledge exchange. By joining forces with this global coalition, countries can leverage the expertise and experiences of other members to accelerate SAF adoption. The FMC also provides a platform for sharing best practices, technological advancements and lessons learned, facilitating a faster and more coordinated transition towards sustainable aviation.

To fully leverage the FMC’s potential, Southeast Asian organizations can actively participate in the coalition and contribute to its objectives. By aligning national policies and strategies with the coalition's goals, governments can demonstrate their commitment to sustainable aviation and attract investment from global stakeholders.

Furthermore, collaboration within the First Movers Coalition can facilitate the development of regional SAF supply chains. Southeast Asian nations can explore opportunities for partnership with member countries possessing advanced SAF production technologies and infrastructure.

This collaboration can foster knowledge transfer, joint ventures and investments, enabling the establishment of local sustainable aviation fuel production facilities and enhancing regional self-sufficiency.

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