Sustainability targets and policies driving SAF ... for Now

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production is still significantly less than fossil fuel-based aviation fuel (kero-jet).

Rene Gonzalez
PTQ / DigitalRefining Editor

Viewed : 744

Article Summary

Regardless, in the interest of demonstrating a commitment to decarbonisation and sustainability driven goals, it’s important for the refining industry to notify investors and consumers about every drop of SAF that it is producing. Genuine demand is nonetheless increasing.

The aviation sector globally contributes to 2-3% of CO2 emissions as compared to other sectors. SAF derived primarily from waste-based sustainable feedstocks, such as used cooking oil, is currently blended with traditional aviation fuel. The aerospace industry is experimenting with engines to run on 100% SAF. Research incentives and long-term near-zero carbon emissions goals are driving the push to 100% SAF.

Rolls Royce has previously committed to make all of its Trent and business aviation engines to be compatible with 100% SAF by 2023. These engines are already certified and ready to operate on a 50% SAF blend with traditional aviation jet fuel. The Biden administration's call for SAF to account for 10% of all aviation fuel by 2030, could create an opportunity for distressed fuel-based refiners.

Corn-ethanol producers could also benefit. For example, late last year, the Colorado-based Gevo and Archer Daniels Midland reached an agreement to jointly produce up to 500 million gallons of SAF at ADM ethanol plants built in the 1990s. Growing fuels markets such as India are also seeing the importance of decarbonising their aviation fleet.

India is the world’s 3rd largest domestic aviation market with a forecasted yearly growth of about 9%. SAF use will be a key element to achieve the country’s targets of carbon reduction and net zero emissions by 2070. On 25 March, Boeing, SpiceJet and CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum announced they are working together to evaluate opportunities for using SAF in the Indian aviation industry.

These companies will work to potentially develop SAF supply from CSIR-IIP and its production partners and licensees to help SpiceJet decarbonise its fleet, according to a joint statement. Regardless of region, SAF feedstock capacity from biocrude production needs to increase. These feedstocks range from lipids, lignocellulose, HVO or hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA), starches, waste streams, etc.

The acronyms HEFA or HVO are used interchangeably (or collectively) for these biogenic hydrocarbon-based renewable biofuels. HEFA/HVO is free of aromatics, sulphur and has a high cetane number. According to a recent IHS Markit report, the majority of SAF plants announced in Europe will use HEFA as a feedstock until 2027, while other technology pathways such as green hydrogen for aviation will evolve in later decades.

Biocrudes can be fed through various refinery processes, such as hydrotreating and hydrocracking. According to a recent IEA bioenergy study, HEFA-based technology is currently the only commercial pathway and will be the main supplier of SAF over the next 10 years. It was also noted that 15% of current HVO renewable diesel production can immediately be diverted to SAF with low investment.

If you have any editorial suggestions, please send them to Rene - editor@peroleumtechnology.com

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