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The U.S. Plan To Power 100% Of Its Flights With Renewable Jet Fuel

Several world powers are launching renewable jet fuel initiatives in the race to be the first to provide a greener way to fly. With strict decarbonization policies being introduced by governments around the globe, several airlines are looking to decarbonize, as well as become more competitive in response to mounting public pressure to be more environmentally friendly. But when will airlines be able to deliver on renewable jet fuel promises?  

Renewable jet fuel, also known as aviation biofuels and biojet kerosene, currently accounts for 0.1 percent of aviation fuel. Most biofuels are made from conventional feedstocks such as sugar cane, corn, and soybeans. HEFA biojet kerosene is also made from vegetable oils and waste oils.

To support net-zero aims, this percentage needs to increase to 5 percent by 2030, according to estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA). To achieve this, the cost of biojet fuel will need to be reduced to compete with lower-cost fossil jet fuel, governments must also introduce policies supporting the switch and offer incentives to aviation companies, and there must be a greater diversification of feedstocks, according to the IEA. Switching dependence from conventional feedstocks to advanced feedstocks produced from wastes, residues, and dedicated crops would help shift reliance on food supplies and create greater diversification in biofuel production. 

This month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) released a roadmap on how to achieve carbon-neutral aviation emissions. The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge Roadmap outlines steps to meet 100 percent of the domestic aviation fuel demand with sustainable fuel by 2050. The roadmap offers a government-wide strategy for the development of technologies supporting the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). 

The U.S. Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Aviation Administration will be working in partnership to enhance technological innovation in the sector and help the U.S. to establish itself as a SAF global market leader, supporting the country’s net-zero aims.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm explains, “From field to flight, this data-driven technology strategy will help guide America’s scientists and industry to chart our course to clean skies.” She added, “Not only is Sustainable Aviation Fuel critical to decarbonising the airline industry and reaching our climate goals, but this plan will help American companies corner the market on a valuable emerging industry.”

At present, the U.S. commercial aviation industry contributes around 2 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions, which demonstrates the impact that a switch to SAFs would have on emissions. The DoE emphasizes that SAFs can be produced using biomass, and the U.S. has the potential to make 50-60 billion gallons of low-carbon fuels a year from renewable and waste resources. 

Europe has taken similar steps by launching its ReFuelEU Aviation initiative as part of its fit for 55 package in 2021. The policy puts forward several proposals to develop the SAF market including obligating fuel suppliers to distribute SAF when supplying fuel at EU airports to enhance SAF uptake by airlines and reduce aviation-related emissions. The initiative also ensures that all flights leaving from larger E.U. airports are carrying a minimum amount of SAF. 

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the E.U.’s aviation regulatory organization, is supporting the SAF development and expects the adoption of jet biofuels will help Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The European Commission has tasked the EASA to play an active role in the ReFuelEU Aviation legislative proposal to increase both the supply and demand for SAF in the region. 

However, the E.U. initiative has attracted criticism this month for potentially leading to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. A recent report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a green mobility NGO, suggests that lawmakers should only permit the use of feedstocks included in Annex IX of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive. The concern is that the expansion of feedstocks used for jet biofuel production could lead to higher emissions as well as drive up food prices. Related: Russia Is Flaring Less And Keeping Natural Gas In The Ground

Chelsea Baldino, one of the report’s authors, stated “Parliament’s efforts to exclude some problematic feedstocks, namely intermediate crops, palm and soy-derived products, and soapstock and its derivatives, would be a step towards improving the climate impact of Europe’s jet fuel. 

Meanwhile, private aviation companies are working on developing their own renewable fuels. American Airlines (AA) completed a deal this summer with the biofuel company Gevo to buy 500 million gallons of sustainable airline fuel (SAF) over five years. AA hopes to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and reported using over 1 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel last year. 

The CEO of Airbus, Guillaume Faury, also addressed the switch stating: “Probably in the long run — in many decades — we will find a very optimised way of sustainable energy but in the transition, the fast way is to use the SAF, and they are available now.” 

While governments and regional bodies around the world are putting policies into place to support the development of sustainable aviation fuels, airlines are also battling it out to increase their use of SAFs and cut emissions. Greater regulatory support will likely help airlines around the globe develop SAF production and encourage airlines to switch to SAFs.

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK. More