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July 22, 2024

Adrien Daste / Safran

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PR: IATA announced that its projections for a tripling of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) production in 2024 to 1.9 billion liters (1.5 million tonnes) are on track. This would account for 0.53% of aviation’s fuel need in 2024. To accelerate SAF use, there are several policy measures that governments could take.

SAF will provide about 65% of the mitigation needed for airlines to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. So the expected tripling of SAF production in 2024 from 2023 is encouraging. We still have a long way to go, but the direction of exponential increases is starting to come into focus,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

Renewable Fuel Production and SAF

Renewable fuel production is shared by many industries and SAF is a part of renewable fuel production. That is why increasing the production of renewable fuel is key to increasing the potential of SAF.

Some 140 renewable fuel projects with the capability to produce SAF have been announced to be in production by 2030. If all of these proceed to production as announced, total renewable fuel production capacity could reach 51 million tonnes by 2030, with production capacity spread across almost all regions.

Renewable fuel production potential could exceed this estimate as investor interest in SAF grows. With a typical three-to-five-year time lag from planning to production, investment announcements as late as 2027 could be in production by 2030. At the same time, it is also clear that not all announcements reach final investment decisions.

Through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), governments set an ambition to achieve a 5% CO2 emissions reduction for international aviation from SAF by 2030. To achieve that ambition, around 27% of all expected renewable fuel production capacity available in 2030 would need to be SAF. Currently, SAF accounts for just 3% of all renewable fuel production.

The interest in SAF is growing and there is plenty of potential. But the concrete plans that we have seen so far are far from sufficient. Governments have set clear expectations for aviation to achieve a 5% CO2 emissions reduction through SAF by 2030 and to be net zero carbon emissions by 2050. They now need to implement policies to ensure that airlines can actually purchase SAF in the required quantities,” said Willie Walsh.

Potential Policy Measures to Boost SAF Production

There are several potential solutions to accelerate aviation’s access to critical SAF quantities:

• Diversify feedstocks: About 80% of SAF expected to be produced over the next five years is likely to come from hydrogenated fatty acids (HEFA): used cooking oils, animal fats, etc. Accelerating the use of other certified pathways and feedstocks (including agricultural and forestry residues and municipal waste) will greatly expand the potential for SAF production.

• Co-processing: Existing refineries can be used to co-process up to 5% of approved renewable feedstocks alongside the crude oil streams. This solution can be implemented quickly and materially expand SAF production. However, policies must be put in place urgently to facilitate consistent life-cycle assessments.

• Incentives to improve the output mix at renewable fuel facilities: The current renewable fuel facilities are designed to maximize diesel production and often benefit from incentives in addition to the long-standing demand from road transportation. As road transport transitions to electrification, policies should be established to shift production toward the long-term need of air transport for SAF. Incentives aimed at SAF can help facilitate the renewable diesel-SAF switch, which requires minimal modifications at existing stand-alone renewable fuel facilities.

• Incentives to boost investments in renewable fuel production: The production of all renewable fuels will need to scale up rapidly, and among them, the need for a growing share of SAF production will necessitate strong policy support. One such clearly articulated policy is the US Grand Challenge and the $3 billion of investments it supports. Stable, long-term tax credits would further maximize SAF production capability in both existing and new facilities.

Incentives to build more renewable energy facilities, strengthen the feedstock supply chain, and to allocate a greater portion of renewable fuel output to aviation would help decarbonizing aviation. Governments can also facilitate technical solutions with accelerated approvals for diverse feedstocks and production methodologies as well as co-processing renewable feedstocks in crude oil plants. No one policy or strategy will get us to the needed levels. But by using a combination of all potential policy measures, producing sufficient quantities of SAF is absolutely possible,” said Walsh.

Passenger Support

A recent IATA survey revealed significant public support for SAF. Some 86% of travelers agreed that governments should provide incentives for airlines to use SAF. In addition, the vast majority of air passengers agree (86%) that leading oil corporations should prioritize the production of SAF.

  • IATA is creating a SAF Registry, and seventeen airlines, one airline group, six national authorities, three Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), and one fuel producer are already supporting the effort to develop it. The Registry is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2025.
  • SAF is expected to account for up to 65% of the total carbon mitigation needed to achieve net zero carbon emissions in air transportation by 2050.
  • IATA is promoting this, but absent serious and significant state intervention, SAF production will underdeliver. It is not easy to produce, and its output is far more expensive than traditional JetA.
  • The state intervention should focus on tax incentives and job creation.  The absence of traditional oil firms in SAF production tells you much about its future. Until Big Oil embraces this, it will remain a tough sell. There was some hope in 2022.  To its credit, Boeing has spoken up about this and placed a large order for SAF.  Of all the OEMs, Boeing has been consistently focused on SAF.
  • The EU’s new SAF regulation complicates matters and skepticism is appropriate.


author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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