Sustainable Aviation Fuel, the Future of Flight
Jet fuel is the largest contributor of air pollution from aviation, and 82% of that comes directly from our use of petroleum-based jet fuel. But what if we could substitute plant-based or waste-derived biofuels instead? Blended with conventional jet fuel, SAF offers the same range and performance as today’s jet fuel while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50–80%.
I mean, can you imagine? Think of the amount of flights there are daily, and the amount of fuel an average plane uses. (for reference, it is estimated that there are 45,000 flights per day, and the average plane uses
8,255 gallons of fuel)
So why aren’t we already using this?
Because of aviation's relatively high CO2 emissions, reaching net-zero in transport can’t happen without focusing on aviation in particular. A July report from climate experts and industry leaders found that reaching net-zero would require continued fuel-efficiency improvements in planes as well as a much, much greater supply of SAFs.
The federal government is working to accelerate SAF R&D, demonstration, and deployment. The version of the Inflation Reduction Act passed by the Senate includes $500 million in grant funding aimed at increasing the sale and use of biofuels as well as a tax credit for SAFs.
The potential of SAFs to feed our appetite for petroleum is enormous, but this endeavor will depend on a significant supply of sustainable biomass. Worldwide demand for jet fuel is projected to more than double from 2019 to 2050, and producing enough SAFs could require several hundred million tons of biomass each year. The use of this fuel is dependent on the production of it, which is challenging. Another concern is that in order to have the production of this fuel, significant production would need to take place in lieu of petroleum-based fuel and the overhaul of these pre-existing plants will be cost prohibitive.
Planes could get cleaner, greener fuel that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels. But it could be a big challenge to produce enough biomass to feed the demand.
What do you think? Is this the jet fuel of the future?