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Work on Sustainable Aviation Fuels Continues Unabated

Despite the pandemic, technologies continue to advance and more OEMs and operators are embracing sustainable aviation fuel.

Even though COVID-19 has slowed or halted many business initiatives, efforts to promote the development and use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) have continued throughout the pandemic, demonstrating the industry’s strong commitment to seeing widespread SAF usage become a reality.

Derived from renewable feed stocks, SAF is a safe and reliable alternative to Jet A that helps reduce CO2 without negatively affecting aircraft performance, powerplant manufacturer warranties or engine maintenance programs. When blended with petroleum-based Jet A at prescribed levels, sustainable aviation fuels meet the same ASTM standard (D1655) as straight jet fuel and are indistinguishable from the conventional petroleum-based product.

Derived from multiple feed stocks that are sustainable, renewable resources, SAF offers myriad benefits, most notably reduced carbon emissions, which supports business aviation’s sustainability efforts and corporate responsibility initiatives.

“We’re focused on the intersection between today’s energy system and a deeply de-carbonized future... Sustainable aviation fuels are a key part of that equation.”

Sasha Mackler Director for Energy Projects, Bipartisan Policy Council

Recognition of the fuel’s benefits extends beyond the aviation industry.

“We’re focused on the intersection between today’s energy system and a deeply de-carbonized future,” said Sasha Mackler, director for energy projects at the Bipartisan Policy Council (BPC). “Sustainable aviation fuels are a key part of that equation, as they provide a clear pathway for such de-carbonization.”

In addition to plants or biomass, another potential source for SAF is direct air capture (DAC) of CO2 from the atmosphere, or capture from other sources of energy production. Under the DAC process, carbon is separated for use as a feedstock to develop other fuels. To that end, the BPC formed a Direct Air Capture Advisory Council – composed of business, political and environmental leaders– to highlight this technology and its potential benefits.

“DAC is one of the most interesting paths,” Mackler said. “It takes a novel set of quickly emerging technologies to draw from a diluted stream of gasses and separate out CO2. It sounds farfetched, but it can be done – and actually is being done now to collect other atmospheric gasses.”

The DAC process has also attracted the attention of Aerion Supersonic, which announced in July a memorandum of understanding with Carbon Engineering Ltd., a Canadian enterprise developing a synthetic fuel blend derived from CO2 that is captured from the atmosphere, water and clean electricity generation.

In addition to Aerion looking to power its planned AS2 supersonic business jet with Carbon Engineering’s synthetic fuel, the companies also will explore building a new plant to produce DAC-derived SAF for the AS2 program. The goal is to remove sufficient quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere to make AS2 flights completely carbon-neutral.

Promoting SAF Advantages to Lawmakers

NBAA has been at the forefront of efforts to promote SAF throughout business aviation. In addition to sponsoring SAF-focused events at airports in the U.S. and in Europe, the association plans to hold the Business Aviation Virtual Global Sustainability Summit Sept. 14-15. NBAA also was part of a coalition of industry groups that recently released the second edition of Fueling the Future, a guide on how operators can incorporate SAF into their operations.

Meanwhile, NBAA’s legislative efforts to encourage use of sustainable fuels continue. Earlier this year, the association joined with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) in supporting a key legislative provision in Washington state to build momentum to expand the use of SAF. The bill – HB 1110 – included a provision that allows SAF producers and the aviation industry to obtain credits for the production, import, distribution, use or sale of fuels that produce lower emissions.

“While we have made significant progress, we must scale up supply and enhance cost-competitiveness to realize the market potential of SAF,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen and NATA President and CEO Timothy Obitts in a letter to the Washington state Senate Transportation Committee.

“Despite the fact that business aviation accounts for a fraction of 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” the letter continued, “the industry is committed to continuing to improve on our strong fuel-efficiency record and to further enhancing our nation’s energy security through various means, including the deployment of SAF.”

Operators, OEMs Plan for an SAF Future

Use of SAF also is increasingly supported across the industry, including by aircraft maintenance operations and personnel. The emergence of SAF was detailed in an NBAA GO Virtual Maintenance Conference session titled “Sustainable Aviation Fuels – A Maintenance Perspective,” which offered a comprehensive overview of the technology and its immediate applications for business aircraft operators.

Charles Etter, staff scientist/technical fellow with Gulfstream Aerospace, reported his company has experienced no issues from using more than 900,000 gallons of 30/70 blended fuel over the course of 700 flights and 1.2 million nautical miles.

“We’ve been operating using SAF on a consistent basis since 2016 and have seen no changes to aircraft or maintenance practices,” said Etter. “I like to say that it’s not ‘like’ Jet A, it is Jet A, and operators should treat it the same.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought immediate and obvious pressures to our industry and to us as a company, but the long-term [environmental] challenges our world faces have not gone away.”

Warren East CEO, Rolls-Royce

Other manufacturers also remain committed to the adoption of sustainable fuels, with Rolls-Royce pledging earlier this year to become a net-zero carbon emitter in its operations by 2030, and to assist the civil aviation industry and other sectors in attaining net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought immediate and obvious pressures to our industry and to us as a company, but the long-term [environmental] challenges our world faces have not gone away,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East. “The world on the other side of this pandemic will need the power that we generate to fuel economic recovery. I absolutely believe the call for that power to be more sustainable and net-zero will be stronger than ever.”

The pledge – part of the United Nations’ “Race to Zero” campaign – helps align Rolls-Royce with goals established in the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius.

“We will use our capabilities to play a leading role in enabling the vital sectors in which we operate achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” East declared. “I believe this ambition will drive our competitiveness for the future.”

Despite these encouraging developments indicating that SAF could fuel business aviation into the future, Mackler noted it’s still too soon to tell how the pandemic’s effects may influence this progress.

“It could cut either way,” said Mackler. “People have seen the reality of cleaner air through less transport during the COVID-19 crisis, but the economic implications from the crisis have made anything nonstandard or innovative harder to do. There’s tremendous promise in SAF and other cleaner energy sources, but we must be clear-eyed to the challenges as well.”

Review NBAA’s sustainable aviation fuel resources at nbaa.org/saf.

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