There’s green airplane fuel – why don’t planes use it?

(CNN) – There is a chance that your future flight will be strengthened, at the very least, by used cooking oil or farm waste.

This is one of the SAF’s components – Sustainable Aviation Fuel – a new type of jet fuel that promises to reduce carbon emissions by 80% on average, according to IATA, the International Air Transport Association.

The first professional aircraft using the SAF were launched in 2011, and have become critical to the sustainability of air transport.

The aviation industry has promised that by 2050, half of its global carbon emissions will be halved by 2005. It then hopes to reach net zero, or no total emissions, according to which is about ten years after that. That’s a very serious strategy, and where the SAF gets about 50% to 75% of the emissions reduction, depending on the different scenarios that can play out between now and then.
And in 2019 – the last year of the industry as usual before the epidemic – the SAF accounted for only 0.1% of jet fuel used worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum. So why don’t the planes use it?


The new aircraft would need little or no modification to serve the SAF.

The new aircraft would need little or no modification to serve the SAF.

Images by Mario Tama / Getty

SAF is an “internal release” fuel, which means it can now be used, on existing aircraft, with little or no modification.

“This is very important and very good for the aviation industry, because there is no need to introduce new industries or new aircraft, and it is very good for the aircraft, because they can be use equity and create jobs – from that perspective, SAF is the best, ”said Andreas Schafer, a professor of energy and transportation at the University of London.

In its bid to become more sustainable, the airline is looking at upcoming technologies such as hydrogen and electric fuel, but this will need changes over the years. As Boeing’s CEO David Calhoun said, SAF is “the only answer between now and 2050.”

The SAF has a low carbon footprint because it is made from waste products, where carbon is released, or from plants that use CO2 to grow.

The problem is, it costs more now than conventional jet fuel, even with today’s high oil prices.

“There was no real commercial issue for the region to invest in at the time,” Schafer explained, adding that there was no reason for aircraft to use the SAF other than to reduce emissions – but at the cost of now and in the midst of a global crisis taken over by Covid, It’s a treasure they can’t buy.

In order to keep the cost down, production needs to increase and new SAF models need to come to market.

Today, most of the SAF comes in the form of biofuel made from waste fuels such as used cooking oil, or from oil plants grown in bad land. However, these tools are currently not enough to provide the service in a sustainable manner.

Used by trash

Many large aircraft used the SAF in commercial or experimental aircraft.

Many large aircraft used the SAF in commercial or experimental aircraft.

Eric Piermont / AFP / Photo Credit

In the future, high -cost biofuel can be made from agricultural waste products, such as tree or waste, and residues from wood and plant waste. it cannot be eaten like miscanthus, like bamboo.

Urban waste, household waste that often goes to waste, can be converted to SAF.

Finally, in the past, we could create a kind of SAF called “water power.” This method uses new energy to extract hydrogen from water and then combine it with CO2 taken directly from the atmosphere. As a result, it is a carbon -free synthetic fuel that comes in an inexhaustible supply – enough to meet the needs of the entire aviation industry.

According to a price analysis run by Schafer and his team, the SAF is made from crude oil at least 50% more than conventional aircraft fuel.

Second, the higher the price of biofuel, the more likely it is to go up to three times as much, and the more “power to water” will come at about four times the price of fuel. . And because of oil prices of $ 100 per barrel – the difference will only increase if oil prices return to lower levels.

How can we lower these costs?

“We need to increase the production of low -cost biofuels and then introduce production at higher costs and power to the water,” Schafer said.

“Thousands of industrial plants need to be built. Not only that, because you need new technology to power the water. The scale is big, and it’s better to start early. . ”

There is a future

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce expressed his commitment of his aircraft to use the SAF.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce expressed his commitment of his aircraft to use the SAF.

Greg Wood / AFP / Photo Credit

The first commercial airline used a combination of biofuels and conventional aircraft fuel used by KLM in 2011, but tried flights since 2008, with Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand between first -time users.

Since then, many major airlines have used the SAF on commercial airlines, including SAS, Lufthansa, Qantas, Alaska and United, among others: according to IATA, more than 370,000 aircraft with SAF in the fuel company have been imported since 2016 only. Aircraft manufacturers and machines are also conducting experiments, signaling global interest. In March 2022, for example, Airbus flew an A380 for three hours using one of its SAF-filled Rolls-Royce engines made from cooking oil and other fuels.
However, progress has been slow due to the epidemic, and Covid’s initial goal of the industry to reach 2% SAF utilization by 2025 – from 0.1% in 2019 – is currently in doubt. .

“Of course we’re behind the 2025 goal and I don’t think we can always go there,” said Glenn McDonald, an aircraft analyst at Aerodynamic Advisory, who says it’s important to get out there to do the work. SAF is better, or through cash. to reduce or through a carbon tax to make traditional aircraft fuel more expensive.

It does not help the airline to be a global industry and a region with rules and regulations that differ from country to country. The progress may not be the same: Norway, for example, has ordered by 2020 that 0.5% of all aircraft fuel used at home will be SAF, a segment that will grow by 30% by 2030.

Changing preferences

Airbus flew the A380 superjumbo for three hours used by the SAF.

Airbus flew the A380 superjumbo for three hours used by the SAF.


According to McDonald, there are encouraging signs.

“Airlines are starting to work harder because they see the changing needs of consumers, there are more and more young passengers, and they know they need to achieve these goals that have become a viable industry in the 2050s, ”he said.

“A common saying we hear in the aerospace and aviation industry is that we don’t want to be a new tobacco industry, where the nature of the industry is inconsistent with government policies and consumer standards.”

For motorists, the move to the SAF could not be seen, as there was no apparent flight due to the fuel change.

However, while aircraft are more likely to use the SAF than its cost compared to conventional jet fuel – not until the 2030s according to the World Economic Forum – they can still afford to. to some of the costs on the passengers, resulting in an increase in wages to. 15%, according to Schafer.

“From a consumer perspective, it’s not much, but from an airline perspective, it’s possible, because the revenue of traditional airlines is less than 15%. So this will boost the market again. . “

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