Sustainable aviation fuel production 'must expand beyond OECD to cut emissions'

Developing countries that can produce the biofuels include India, Brazil and South Africa, World Bank says

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The use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) is the main tool to decarbonise the global aviation industry over the next five to 10 years, but production needs to extend beyond high-income countries to meet demand for jet fuel, according to the World Bank.

Their production must expand outside countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to meet growing jet fuel demand and reduce the industry's carbon emissions, the Washington-based lender said in a new report.

The emergence of a sustainable aviation fuel industry in developing countries could have “significant benefits” for the economy, as well as for climate, it said.

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Sustainable aviation fuels are made from different feedstocks such as crops and municipal waste, among others. Many of the biofuels are already certified for use in existing aircraft, which is blended up to 50 per cent with conventional jet fuel.

Developing countries with the potential to produce sustainable aviation fuel include India, Brazil and South Africa, the report's authors said.

The biofuels offer “production opportunities in developing countries, creating jobs and opening up new opportunities for development”, said Charles Schlumberger, lead air transport specialist at the World Bank and one of the report's writers.

Megersa Abate, a transport economist at the World Bank and another of the report's writers, said sustainable aviation fuel should “be local; it needs to be produced everywhere so it can be used everywhere”.

It could meet much of the projected demand for jet fuel and “reverse the upward trajectory of air transport emissions, but only if production expands beyond OECD countries”, Mr Abate said.

“This will also create more green corridors for OECD-based airlines, which will be facing a growing number of SAF mandates.”

Last year, airlines pledged to attain net-zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050, bringing the air transport industry in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Airlines are facing pressure from environmental groups to lower their carbon footprint and to build back greener operations after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) estimates that sustainable aviation fuels could contribute about 65 per cent towards the reduction in emissions needed by aviation to reach net zero in 2050.

But this requires a huge increase in production to meet demand. Iata expects the largest acceleration of production in the 2030s as policy support becomes global, the biofuels become competitive, when compared with fossil kerosene, and credible offsets become fewer.

Currently, sustainable aviation fuels meet less than 0.1 per cent of jet fuel demand as airlines seeking to use them in their aircraft are facing a supply crunch.

The World Bank's analysis shows that they could bring a 58 per cent reduction in emissions in 2050 if production is increased significantly.

“Incentives and mandates will be key. Scale-up will require mandating feedstock for aviation, but right now there is a struggle for green fuels between road transport and shipping,” Mr Abate said.

“The big issue right now is how we can prioritise aviation when it comes to production of biofuels. This needs to be addressed to scale up [sustainable aviation fuels].”

Boosting production will help address the high price of sustainable aviation fuels, which are currently two to five times more expensive than traditional jet fuel.

For the aviation industry to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, large-scale use of sustainable aviation fuels will need to be combined with technological and operational improvements, the World Bank said.

Improving air transport organisation, airline efficiency and airport operations, as well as innovations in aircraft design and propulsion technology are additional ways to help to decarbonise the sector, the report said.

Combined with the use of sustainable aviation fuels, these options can reduce emissions up to 85 per cent in 2050, according to the World Bank's analysis.

Updated: October 30, 2022, 4:29 AM
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