Covid-19 pandemic boosts interest in sustainable aviation fuel

Experts say health crisis accelerated investment in the SAF industry and in efforts to achieve global climate commitments

An Air France aircraft, operated with SAF produced by TotalEnergies, being refuelled before a flight from Nice to Paris. Reuters
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Meeting the net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 is a “massive challenge” for the aviation industry but it offers a huge opportunity for the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) sector, which is already being propelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, industry experts said.

Investments in the SAF industry and work towards achieving global climate commitments have accelerated in the past few months, as the aviation industry is working hard for a green recovery, said Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs at the trade body Airlines for America, in Washington.

“It is remarkable to see that we continued working on the climate crisis even in the middle of the pandemic,” said Ms Young, who was speaking at a How Airlines and Fuel Producers are trying to Fly Carbon-Free session organised by the Energy Intelligence Forum.

“We have seen a lot efforts made by our members to push the SAF industry … things are moving in terms of our expectation as we are working hard for a green recovery,” she said.

The aviation sector came to a grinding halt as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but demand is beginning to recover because of the increased pace of vaccine distribution in many countries.

On Monday, global airlines adopted a resolution to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as they come under increasing pressure from climate change activists over the effects of their operations.

The International Air Transport Association has set out a strategy to achieve this target through the use of SAF, new aircraft technology, more efficient operations and infrastructure and developing energy sources such as electric and hydrogen power.

“The pandemic created many opportunities for the companies to take a step back and think about the future … it created a point where both companies and countries are now thinking of ways to come back strongly from the pandemic and accelerate the green efforts,” said Jimmy Samartzis, chief executive of Chicago-based sustainable fuels technology company Lanzajet.

“The pandemic was a moment when most of the companies set new climate goals … it [boosted] interest in the future and accelerated the efforts towards the commercialisation of SAFs,” he said.

Under Iata's plan, the use of SAF would contribute 65 per cent towards achieving net-zero carbon by 2050, new aircraft technologies (such as electric or hydrogen propulsion) would contribute 13 per cent, off-setting or carbon capture 19 per cent and improving infrastructure and operations (particularly air traffic management) would contribute 3 per cent.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the “airlines did not stop their efforts towards achieving sustainability goals”, said Thorsten Lange, executive vice president for renewable aviation at Neste – an oil refining and marketing company in Espoo, Finland.

“Public awareness on sustainability has grown substantially and now we are seeing growing climate commitments in the aviation industry around the world.”

Updated: October 08, 2021, 6:00 AM