Mapping global SAF supplies

Sustainable Aviation Fuel is widely accepted as a key component for business aviation’s sustainability roadmap. But where in the world can you fill your tank with SAF and what are the barriers to its wider uptake? Words Yves Le Marquand

FIVE WORDS OFFER the solution to unlock the potential of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). They are supplied by Keith Sawyer, Avfuel, manager of alternative fuels: “The key is simply availability.” But delivering that availability is proving challenging. It shouldn’t be. “Because SAF meets ASTM D-1655 certification for jet fuel, the infrastructure is already in place. It’s simply a matter of where the fuel can be sourced and how much can be sourced,” Sawyer tells Corporate Jet Investor.

There’s no doubt SAF is becoming more widely available around the globe, especially in Europe and the US. Neste's vice president, Renewable Aviation Europe, Jonathan Wood told CJI: “Customer demand is the most important key to drive FBOs, distributors and suppliers to make SAF available.” Neste’s SAF is currently available in over 20 locations globally and could be supplied in other locations if there is demand for it.

So how can SAF be made more available? Avfuel founded Avfuel Technology Initiatives Corporation back in 2012, which includes developing bio and renewable fuels and helping ensure any new product is sustainable, competitively-priced and fairly accessible. Partnerships with other players are also key, Avfuel has done so with Neste and Gevo providing SAF on a consistent basis to its customer base in select locations.

Avfuel's terminal location in northern California will see an initial focus set on the western US. In the first three months of its partnership with Neste, Avfuel has established consistent supply at Monterey Jet Center (KMRY), Telluride Regional Airport (KTEX) and Atlantic Aviation in Aspen (KASE), with more to be announced by year end.

Californian SAF supply

US operator Clay Lacy Aviation has purchased 100,000 gallons (454,609 litres) of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in 2021, making it available at both of its Californian FBO locations at Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) in Los Angeles and John Wayne Airport (KSNA) in Orange County. The firm’s third FBO in Oxford, Connecticut is scheduled to begin operations in 2022 and is planning to offer SAF.

Global feedstocks: Different solutions for different locations

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) offers a hydrocarbon fuel solution for the immediate future of aviation without relying on fossil fuels. But, from a feedstock point of view, where in the world is most ready to fully embrace it? SkyNRG’s team head of Future Fuels, Oscar Meijerink says specific locations offer different potentials for SAF expansion. For example, in largely forested areas technologies based on the biomass (wood) would be appropriate, but in regions with high amounts of sun and wind a power-to-liquid system makes more sense for SAF production.

With some exceptions, those pathways are largely complementary to each other, says Meijerink. “In the northern and southern parts of the globe we find largely forested areas, whilst around the equator, higher temperatures make more sense for power-to-liquid solutions.”

In the shorter term, we will see increased development in Europe and the US when president Joe Biden puts his plans into action. “Those are the areas that have originally been leading in policy development and you need that policy to drive the market. Those are the areas where we see most happening in the coming five to 10 years.”

Avfuel is also providing a consistent supply to Textron Aviation at its Wichita headquarters and Bell Textron the rotorcraft division at its Fort Worth, Texas, facility. Textron will use the product as “fly away fuel” for aircraft deliveries, as well as fuelling demo flights. Whilst Bell will incorporate SAF into all Bell Training Academy and customer demonstration fleet aircraft.

Neste is active on four fronts in the battle for wider SAF use, Wood explained: “Firstly, Neste is producing and supplying SAF today to airports and customers, both directly and by partnering with distributors. Secondly, by developing its offering to corporate and private consumers to reduce their carbon emission by agreeing to pay for the use of SAF, either directly with Neste, via aircraft operators, via the FBOs or other partners.”

Neste is also investing in the production capacity of SAF, it reports 1.5m tonnes of new SAF annual production capacity expected to come on stream by 2023 at its refineries in Singapore and Rotterdam. Finally, Neste is developing future production technologies through its research and development (R&D) segment – looking to expand the availability and variety of sustainable feedstocks.

Michael Winter, senior fellow, Advanced Technology, Pratt & Whitney tells CJI the main barrier to wider SAF use is the lack of supply. SAF production amounted to less than 0.1% of the 100bn gallons of fuel consumed by the global commercial aircraft fleet in 2019. “So, it could still be decades before SAFs are available in sufficient quantity, to make operations with high ratio or unblended SAF practicable, beyond the currently certified maximum blend level of 50%,” says Winter.

The real issue is cost, SAF is at least twice the price of jet fuel today. “We are excited about the emerging legislation for blender credits that have been proposed in the US that will equalise the price point and kickstart the production virtuous cycle.

“Also recognise that aircraft are designed to operate over a lifespan of many decades and we need to ensure that they are future-ready, including by taking steps to enable operation with 100% SAF,” says Winter.

Pratt & Whitney has conducted extensive testing of blended and unblended SAFs on engines across its portfolio, from small turboprops to business jets and large commercial engines. Through existing testing conducted since the mid-2000s, Winter says the firm knows how its engines per-form while operating with 100% SAF. To ensure safe and reliable operation under typical usage conditions, however, some minimal modifications to the engines may be needed. This will depend upon what precisely emerges as a specification for 100% SAF, and if it will be a drop-in replacement or not.

Winter said: “Undoubtedly the issue of a specification will be key to moving forward and this is an immediate focus for our industry. We need to agree a definition for 100% SAF, as a more pure substance, or as a blend of different chemical constituents from biological sources that replicate the chemical properties of traditional jet fuel as closely as possible. Ideally, we need to develop standards to allow any and all SAFs to be used interchangeably worldwide.”

Pricing is key

“In order to get a wider uptake of SAF globally the price point must be closer to that of traditional fossil fuel-based Jet-A,” said Scott Cutshall, senior VP Marketing, Clay Lacy. Currently a 70/30 blend (70% Jet-A and 30% SAF), such as Clay Lacy offers, has a green-premium of $1.50 to $2.00 per gallon. “If the price point was within $0.10 to $0.15 per USG, I believe there would be more users willing to pay the premium to use SAF.”

SAF is ready for take-off in Telluride, Colorado. Avfuel delivers SAF, supplied by Neste, at Telluride Regional Airport and at Aspen Airport, Colorado through Atlantic Aviation.

He may be busier with a blender’s tax credit system.

This will require policy and close coordination between public and private bodies, governments can, for example, use funding to stimulate SAF supply and demand towards an economically competitive level. “We stand ready to continue working with regulatory bodies to develop the standards that will allow SAFs to be used beyond the current 50% maximum blend level permitted today.”

One example being introduced in the US is the ‘blender’s tax credit’, released as part of the Biden-Harris Made in America Tax Plan. The plan outlines that SAF refiners stand to gain $2 tax credit per gallon. This was previously $1 per gallon and will put the cost of SAF closer to parity with fossil-based fuel. The proposed blender’s tax credit is also feedstock neutral, providing flexibility for new pathways – such as algae and plant biomass – under development.

California is the most advanced region globally in terms of SAF uptake, according to SkyNRG’s team head, Future Fuels, Oscar Meijerink. He tells CJI: “In terms of any renewable fuel California is the most interesting place because they have national Clean Fuel Standard and the local Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Which are complimentary to each other and create the highest incentive for these fuels. Although aviation is not mandated and only voluntary it still creates as higher incentives as you could get for renewable diesel.”

Another example is the UK government Department of Transport’s (DfT) Jet Zero Council. The council established its SAF Delivery Group to bring together experts in the field to help develop a coordinated approach to the policy and regulatory framework needed to attract investment in SAF.

SAF can also bring about significant industrial opportunities for countries, according to DfT. Its research shows that by 2040 the sector could generate between £700m and £1.6bn per annum for the UK economy.

Elsewhere in Europe, we are seeing a move towards mandating a minimum level of SAF usage. The EU Refuel initiative recognises that SAFs have the potential to significantly reduce aircraft emissions. However, this potential is largely untapped as SAF represents only 0.05% of total jet fuel consumption. The initiative, backed by over 100 biofuel organisations globally, aims to boost the supply and demand of SAF through mandating levels similar to those given to road freight to use biodiesel.

Meijerink adds: “Norway and Sweden have already implemented their national mandate, so as well as California, they are very logical places for wider SAF uptake. As long as the buyout price is high enough fuels will flow in those locations.”

There are currently seven SAF production pathways available with five more in process. “There will be a need to find a balance in the industry to avoid competition with food producers for arable land, for instance, by focusing on waste-to-fuel and power-to-liquid solutions.”

In Winter’s opinion SAF is the best answer we have to answering demands to increase sustainability. Although Pratt & Whitney is also investigating zero emissions technologies like hydrogen fuel and electric-powered propulsion, “these do not compete with the drive to implement SAFs at scale; in fact they are synergistic”.

Biofuel for thought: Jim Macias (L) president and CEO of Fulcrum BioEnergy and David Gilmour inspect an optical sorter at the Sierra BioFuel’s plant near Reno, Nevada.

No need for competition

There are currently seven Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production pathways available with five more in process. With that amount of pathways in existence, many of which require crops for the feedstock, the industry will need to find a balance to avoid competition with food producers. One way in which the competition for arable land can be alleviated is by focusing on waste-to-fuel and power-to-liquid pathways. Although the industry is also investigating zero emissions technologies like hydrogen fuel and electric-powered propulsion, these do not need to compete with the drive to implement SAFs at scale; in fact they are synergistic, says Michael Winter, Pratt & Whitney.

Avfuel’s Sawyer agrees. SAF is the most effective way to reduce a flight’s carbon footprint, he says. “To quantify it, Avfuel’s Neste MY SAF supply provides a 22-metric ton reduction in carbon emissions over its lifecycle per truckload equivalent to the amount of carbon sequestered by 28.7 acres of US forestland every year.”

Air bp has supplied SAF to airports in Europe including Arlanda Airport in Sweden, Oslo Airport in Norway, plus several regional airports across Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, the UK and the USA. It’s working with customers to expand its footprint further in other parts of Europe and USA.

For Air bp’s sustainability director, Andreea Moyes SAF represents the best way to achieve 2050 sustainability goals. She tells CJI: “Even by 2050, kerosene will still be the main source of energy for aviation since hydrogen and electric batteries are unlikely to be able to address long-haul wide body aircraft propulsion in this time frame and the turnover of aircraft in the fleet takes time. Therefore, SAF is a key enabler for meeting the industry’s 2050 sustainability goals.”

To see these goals through, SAF will have to come down in price, Air bp hopes that its efforts to create more demand in the short-term will lead to more production and, therefore, lower costs in future. We know demand for SAF exists in the business aviation community. We also know there are sustainability targets to meet and the industry does not get off lightly when it comes to environmental criticism. And the infrastructure is in place across much of Europe and North America to supply SAF regularly.

The last and greatest barrier is price parity between SAF and fossil jet fuel. So, with that now being tackled through government policies, such as the blenders' credit, the Scandinavian mandates and the EU Refuel initiative, it too seems only a matter of time. Or rather a matter of basic economics – supply and demand.

“SAF is a key enabler for meeting the 2050 sustainability goals.”
Andreea Moyes, sustainability director, Air bp

Treading lightly: SAF is the most effective way to reduce a flight’s carbon footprint, says Keith Sawyer, Avfuel.

Yves Le Marquand, Reporter, Corporate Jet Investor

Yves Le Marquand, Reporter, Corporate Jet Investor