Just what is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)?

SAF is a new type of aviation fuel that has been developed to serve as a clean substitute for jet fossil fuels. SAF is produced from sustainable resources such as waste oil that originates from animal or vegetable sources as well as agricultural residues or even from non-fossil-CO2 heavy-industry sources.

SAF is referred to as a drop-in fuel, which means that it can be blended with jet fossil fuel, after which the blended fuel requires no special equipment to deploy. This blended fuel has the same characteristics, specifications and certifications as typical jet fossil fuel.

SAF progress to-date

Most commercial airlines throughout the world have used SAF, with KLM claiming to have been the first to do so in 2011. To date, more than 370,000 flights have been powered by SAF.

Why the focus on SAF?

There’s a downside to flying as the environmental impact of air travel is significant, and demand is ever-increasing. Globally, economies and businesses need to mitigate the impact of aviation to reduce our carbon footprint and greenhouse gases. Of all the sectors, aviation will have the most difficult time becoming sustainable and mitigating climate change. SAF is one route that the aviation sector will use to achieve this needed sustainability.

What is the impact of Aviation on Carbon Emissions?

Aviation currently accounts for approximately 2-3% of man-made global carbon emissions. If we continue with our current flying needs, aviation could consume up to 22% of the global carbon budget by 2050. To support the growth in demand for aviation and, at the same time, address its environmental impact, the aviation industry has committed to carbon-neutral growth. As a result, the industry plans to reduce net aviation carbon emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2050.

Technology, operations, and infrastructure improvements are recognized as effective ways in which to reduce emissions. More than 99% of airline emissions and approximately 50% of airport emissions are related to jet fuel combustion. Although increased energy efficiencies in ground operations and aviation,  along with reductions in overall energy demand, are effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these improvements do not offer a sole solution to aviation-related emissions. A multiple-pronged approach is needed.

Since aircraft cannot switch to alternative energy sources (like hydrogen or electricity) in the foreseeable future, airplanes will continue to rely on liquid fuels. Therefore, sustainable aviation fuel made from renewable feedstock is one of the most critical short-term options to significantly reduce the industry’s carbon footprint and, at the same time, also reduce the dependency on the petroleum industry.


How is SAF priced?

Indications are that SAF fuels are about eight times more expensive than conventional jet fuel. Obviously, an improved demand scheme and an improved supply chain can do much to reduce this price differential while making SAF more affordable and available.

What Benefits does SAF provide?

1. CO2 reduction
Over 80% of CO2 emissions reductions can be achieved with SAF. The difference here is that SAF recycles CO2 emissions that were previously emitted and then subsequently recovered from the atmosphere during biomass production.

2. Improved local air quality
Compared to conventional jet fuel, SAF can also reduce up to 90% of particulate matter and 100% of sulphur (SOX) emissions. Reducing these emissions impacts local air quality, particularly in areas with high flight movements, such as airports.

3. Improved fuel efficiency
Studies have shown that sustainable aviation fuel has a higher energy density than conventional jet fuel. SAF also yields an improved fuel efficiency of 1.5 – 3%.

4. Benefits of a regional SAF supply chain.

It should be recognized that SAF raw materials are most often regionally based. The benefits of a regional SAF supply chain include increased energy security, reduced volatility of jet fuel supply and pricing, and economic development opportunities through local investments and job creation.

Materials in this story were sourced from