The Green Corridor: The SAF Challenge

The Green Corridor: The SAF Challenge

The Race is On for Scaling-Up Sustainable Aviation Fuels

by Timothy Foote, Director Transportation & Network APAC at Asendia and Founder of Susymbio

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) is desperately needed for a world where climate change can be stopped. Where is it all to come from? Is there progress being made?

Last year in Singapore, Paris, Frankfurt and other key global airports, sustainable air fuels (SAF) started to be blended with regular air fuels to begin the de-carbonization of airlines. The percentage of blending however is painfully low at present. Additionally, the supply for this fuel needs to be made much quicker so that SAF really starts making a dent on our global emissions.

Air emissions has always been a challenge. Mostly because there has been no alternative emissions free aircraft engine invented to fully replace the jet engine. Invented over 80 years ago, the jet engine and its modern permutations require tons of high-octane fossil fuel.  In previous Green Corridor articles (https://logisym.org/the-green-corridor-digitise-wisely-to-reduce-emissions/), I wrote in some detail about the advancements in engineering, but also the high rate of increasing air miles flown due to the ever-increasing demand for air travel. Long story, short – increasing demand outpaces the engineering advances for the fossil fuel burning engine every time.

SAF has been promoted as the magic bullet for sustainability in this calculation. If the same basic engines for aircraft no longer are burning fossil fuels extracted from the carbon captured oil deposits, then we are not adding to the atmospheric emissions. It can be a great solution if other things fall into place quickly. It also does not require a new revolutionary advancement in aeronautical engineering.

What other things have to fall in place to make it all work though? Well firstly, access to sustainable aviation fuel is needed. Only a handful of Airports have easy access to SAF today. Secondly, the production of sustainable air fuel needs to ideally match the quantity of fuel needed so that the costs can be competitive. This supply requirement is by far the most pressing at the moment. SAF makes up less than 0.2% of fuel used in planes today.

Future Developments

Feedstock for the current types of SAF fuel is currently a major challenge. Biomass waste feedstocks like used vegetable oils and animal waste are limited. Major innovation is therefore needed in chemistry and science to find scalable, environmentally friendly, and cheap ways to make new forms of SAF. There are some in development today!

The new emerging fuel production methods I have read about recently are Atj and PtL. These are short for Alcohol-to-jet and Power-to-Liquids respectively. Both methods do not rely on limited biomass feedstocks. They therefore have more potential to scale into the quantities needed from the airline industry.

There will no doubt be more innovations and competing methods to produce SAF in the coming years. I’ll be keeping an eye for the latest as I hope others will.

Propelling Change

Regulation has been necessary to propel SAF fuel into use. And it has been needed so that demand is generated for SAF innovation, infrastructure, and production. The targets are already there. Major European carriers are targeting 10% of all fuels loaded on planes to be SAF by 2030. The State of California as an example is aiming at 20% to be SAF in 2030.

Targets for less aircraft emissions foster investment and innovation. not just  for SAF, but for any alternative engine which may someday replace the jet engine. UPS and DHL are already utilizing battery powered planes for short haul cargo deliveries. It is not unimaginable to expect that higher and higher energy density batteries will continue to increase the size and distance of these EV flown air shipments.

In summary, SAF development is progressing fast. There are new production methods that are being developed to rapidly ramp up supply and bring down costs. It is a tremendous challenge, but if the industry is to survive it is necessary for solutions to be available sooner rather than later. If you are not doing so today, then think about supporting industry-wide action toward greater SAF use and lower emission standards for aircraft. The assurance for its future sales is still necessary to propel investment. To truly move green requires action by logistics professionals, so please help where you can. 

About the Author

Timothy Foote
Director, Transportation & Network APAC at Asendia and Founder of Susymbio

Tim has worked in management positions at multiple MNCs for more than 25 years, gaining expansive expertise in logistical operations. Tim continues to craft delivery solutions for many e-commerce clients at Asendia. Once a regional Head of Go Green at DHL eCommerce, Tim now works for customers to decarbonise their logistics by managing Asendia’s 100% carbon-neutral network.

To further promote a net zero future for the logistics industry, Tim created MOVE GREEN. This is a movement committed to greening the logistics industry during this time of transformation. Please join the companies making a pledge to become net zero by going to Susymbio.com for more details.

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