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Study reveals Ireland’s huge potential to develop a SAF industry

Avolon SAF
photo_camera Credit: Avolon

According to the findings of a recent feasibility study, Ireland has the potential to develop a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry generating revenue of €2.55 billion by 2050, and providing up to 1,000 highly-skilled jobs.

The Ireland’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Opportunity study looks at the key role SAF will play in helping the aviation industry achieve its net zero goal by 2050.

Produced by SkyNRG and SFS Ireland, in a partnership supported by Avolon, Boeing and ORIX Aviation, the study was launched on October 25, 2023 by Ireland’s Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD.

Reaching net zero by 2050

IATA estimates that SAF, which can be used to replace traditional jet fuel, will deliver over 60 per cent of the contribution needed to reduce aviation emissions to reach net zero by 2050.

The European Union’s ReFuelEU initiative obligates fuel suppliers to blend SAF into the fuel available at all EU airports, rising from six per cent SAF by 2030, to 70 per cent by 2050.

To meet EU mandated SAF volumes alone, Ireland will require approximately 10 SAF plants of 80 kilo tonnes production capacity each.

This would create an Irish SAF sector generating revenue of €2.55 billion per annum and could provide up to 1,000 jobs in direct and indirect employment. It is thought that further export opportunities could significantly increase these numbers.

Opportunity for Ireland

The research finds that the biggest opportunity for Ireland lies in Power to Liquid (PtL) production of eSAF, a synthetic fuel produced by combining green hydrogen (extracted through electrolysis from water using renewable energy) with biogenic CO2.

SAF derived from bio-based intermediates like renewable natural gas has potential to scale up more rapidly to fulfil the advanced biofuels portion of the ReFuelEU mandate.

Significant progress is required for Ireland to be able to develop eSAF at scale, particularly to ensure there is enough excess renewable power available to produce hydrogen in the required quantities.

The increased levels of offshore wind power generation that government initiatives are targeting by 2030 will put Ireland in a stronger position to develop a domestic SAF industry.

The research recommends that the key policy initiatives to be prioritised by the government and other stakeholders include:

  • Targets: Include sustainable aviation in climate action plans to strengthen Ireland’s position as a renewable fuel aviation hub.
  • Incentivise: Incentivising mechanisms are crucial for a viable PtL business case to stimulate the development of both SAF and hydrogen: capital allowances, tax credits, guaranteed minimum pricing, investment incentives (e.g. via EII or SCI schemes).
  • Research and Development: Funding and promotion of SAF technologies leveraging Ireland’s third-level institutions and government entities such as Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and SEAI.
  • Reforming planning process: Implement a comprehensive and systematic approach in the planning process for SAF production plants, taking into account the potential for future energy parks and circular economy development in Ireland.
  • Storage and transport: Invest in hydrogen storage and transport, and solving the electricity congestion issues through more flexible use/development of the grid.
  • Collaboration: Collaboration between public and private sector is critical to mobilise the required investment. Cross-departmental government relationships are also essential (DECC, DOT, DAFM) to ensure comprehensive policy framework.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD, said: “The government is committed to supporting EU and international action to reduce aviation emissions.

“The European Green Deal has set ambitious targets for reducing net emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030, when compared to 1990 levels, and to be the first climate neutral continent by 2050.

“The agreement of the global long-term aspirational goal (LTAG) for international aviation at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which includes a collective global goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 further demonstrates the level of ambition of States and Industry alike.”

The Minister continued: “We welcome the proactive approach from the aviation sector to progress its own net zero commitments. This research presented today shows that there are clear future economic benefits from the green economy, which can create new jobs and exciting new business ventures.

“We look forward to engaging further with industry to explore Ireland’s SAF potential.”

Andy Cronin, chief executive of Avolon, said: “Our support for this partnership reflects our ambition to be at the forefront of sustainable innovation that will reshape the future of aviation.

“Large-scale deployment of SAF and the transition of the global fleet to new technology aircraft are the two biggest near-term drivers that can progress the sector’s net zero by 2050 goal.

“It is going to require large levels of investment and close collaboration across many stakeholders, and we value the Minister’s engagement to explore Ireland’s sustainable aviation fuel opportunity.”

Sheila Remes, vice president of environmental engagement and business development at Boeing, said: “Significant progress is required for Ireland to be able to develop eSAF at scale, particularly to ensure renewable power is available in the scale required production of hydrogen in the required quantities.

“The increased levels of offshore wind power generation that government initiatives are targeting by 2030 will put the country in a much stronger position to develop a domestic SAF industry.”

Marie-Louise Kelly, chief financial officer at ORIX Aviation, and chair of Aircraft Leasing Ireland, said: “ORIX Aviation joined with its partners Avolon, Boeing, SkyNRG and SFS Ireland on this ambitious project because we want to be part of the innovations and as crucially, the collaborations, that will define aviation’s journey to Net Zero 2050.

“Along with our sectoral experience we were also able to add the wider ORIX Group’s extensive expertise in renewable power generation to this study. This report has identified multiple opportunities for Ireland on this journey.

“We welcome the Minister’s commitment to engage on SAF production and look forward to exploring ways to position Ireland at the heart of the global drive to Net Zero 2050.”

Darren Carty, partner at SFS Ireland, said: “We welcome the Minister’s support and take pride in collaborating with industry leaders like SkyNRG, Avolon, Boeing, and ORIX Aviation as an SME.

“This feasibility study is the foundation for establishing a low-carbon SAF industry in Ireland. We look forward to advancing collaboration and essential public-private partnerships.

“SFS Ireland is firmly dedicated to spearheading the production of SAF in Ireland and actively participating in the overarching mission to reduce carbon emissions within the aviation industry.”

Philippe Lacamp, chief executive of SkyNRG, said: “Ireland has an opportunity to combine its renewable resources, skilled workforce, and the right policy environment to create a thriving SAF industry.

“SAF is essential for the aviation industry to achieve its net-zero target by 2050 and we need to build up SAF production capacity to cater to the rapidly rising demand.

“While there is still work to be done, we are convinced that Ireland can play a significant role in creating this SAF production capacity.

“We look forward to working with the Irish Government and other stakeholders to make SAF a reality for the important Irish aviation sector.”

READ MORE NEWS: In-flight SAF tests to be carried out by Boeing, United Airlines and NASA

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