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Can sustainable aviation fuel clean up flying?

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With the aviation industry under pressure to hit net zero by 2050, airlines are eager to increase the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The FT’s Myles McCormick looks at whether production of SAF can be scaled, and how long it will take.

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The promise of SAFs

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are becoming increasingly important in the decarbonization of the aviation industry. With the global aviation industry accounting for about 2-3% of global CO2 emissions, SAFs offer a promising solution for reducing the carbon footprint of air travel. SAFs are produced from renewable resources such as agricultural waste, non-food crops, and municipal solid waste, and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional fossil fuels. Moreover, SAFs can be blended with existing fossil fuels and used in existing aircraft engines without requiring significant changes to infrastructure or engines. With the demand for air travel continuing to grow, SAFs offer a sustainable solution for meeting the aviation industry's energy needs while reducing its impact on the environment.

Not all SAFs are created equal

SAFs can have vastly different environmental impacts. Some SAFs may be produced from waste materials or non-food crops, while others may be produced from food crops or require significant amounts of energy and water to produce. The choice of feedstock and production method can significantly impact the carbon intensity, water use, land-use change, and other environmental factors associated with SAF production. Additionally, the type of fuel produced, such as hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) or alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel, can also impact the environmental performance of the fuel. Therefore, it is important to consider the full life cycle and sustainability of SAF production when evaluating the environmental impact of different types of SAFs.

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