Aviation Business News

Where SAF stands

photo_camera The aviation industry is relying on the progress of SAF to meet environmental targets

Will sustainable aviation fuel and carbon pricing be the key factors that ensure the aviation industry meets its net zero emission targets? That’s the question posed by VZM Management Services in its 2023 market outlook

The aviation industry is betting on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to meet its emission targets, in no small part due to a lack of alternatives. That’s the opinion of VZM Management Services, as it ponders whether SAF and carbon pricing are “the be-all and end-all” in the 2023 edition of its annual market outlook.

Technology breakthroughs are far off as they are still in the waiting room, the consultancy reports. Technologies such as battery capacity, lighter fuel cell systems and tanks for hydrogen are still far from mature; even once new technologies are introduced, it will take a long time before they will have a global impact, VZM says.

This means that “there will be a path full of challenges” to meet the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) target of six per cent of jet fuel being SAF by 2030.

Based on publicly announced intentions, global SAF production will get a boost in 2023, with global SAF production then forecast to more than double by 2026, reaching 10 billion litres per year.

VZM thinks that SAF derived from biomass and solid waste is most mature, but synthetic SAF is the most likely to be used in future.

The company also asks whether carbon pricing and restrictions will be needed to meet the net zero emission target. The aviation industry is still far off the net zero target as emissions will continue to grow in the coming decade, VZM notes. IATA expects that passenger journeys will more than double by 2050 compared with 2019.

Worryingly, the World Economic Forum considers IATA’s 2030 SAF target of six per cent insufficient to achieve net zero by 2050. Many countries have already introduced carbon pricing, but
only a few for aviation, VZM notes, while emission trading systems have no worldwide coverage “with only Europe and Canada as frontrunners”. IATA is pledging to use incentives instead of
taxes to stimulate emission reductions.

Significant progress is, however, being made with SAF. An A321neo recently took off from Airbus’s headquarters in Toulouse, France with both of its engines powered by 100 per cent unblended SAF.

Since the end of February, the aircraft has been closely followed by a data-collecting, highly modified Dassault jet with the mission to gather information on the non-CO2 emissions and the creation of contrails. The A321neo’s flights are the latest demonstration in the VOLCAN project, the acronym of VOL avec Carburants Alternatifs Nouveaux, French for ‘flight with new alternative fuels’.

This A321neo is the first Airbus single-aisle aircraft and the latest Airbus aircraft overall – following the A350 and A330MRTT – to test 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel on both engines. The VOLCAN evaluations are focused on the emissions of unblended SAF, which – unlike SAF blends that are increasingly being used in aviation today – is not mixed with any fossil fuels.

This feature was first published in MRO Management – April 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.

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