Interview

“In Europe a target SAF share of 10% of all aviation fuel demand by 2030 is feasible”

This covers
Jonathan Wood

“We see the EU targeting to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 and individual national targets being set to reach net-zero emissions by 2050”

As the aviation industry aims for greater efficiency and sustainability and to reduce its climate impacts, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are expected to play an increasingly significant role in enhancing aviation sustainability – but for now, their European market share remains below 1% of all jet fuel purchased.

To get an insider view on what the future holds for this exciting sector, and how SAF can help aviation ‘build back better’ from the pandemic, we touched base with Jonathan Wood, Vice-President Neste Renewable Aviation, one of the largest global SAF providers.

How large do you think the market for SAF will be in Europe in the next decade, and which type of SAFs look the most promising in terms of market share?

Over the long term we anticipate that SAF will be a large market and a very material share of all aviation fuel used. This is confirmed by most industry commentators, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the recent ATAG report (note of the editor: the Air Transport Action Group is a non-for-profit association representing all sectors of the air industry). In Europe a target SAF share of 10% of all aviation fuel demand by 2030 is feasible, ramping up from 5% in 2025.

As a society we need to move fast in all sectors to reduce emissions now, in order to follow a path which could enable us to meet the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference goal of limiting temperature increases to 1.5°C. It is essential we start now in increasing the uptake of lower emission solutions - waiting a few years for the perfect solution increases the scale of the challenge. Most of the SAF production capacity in the 2020s will be based on the so-called HEFA technology*, which is commercial today, with a growing contribution from 2025 onwards from technologies utilising other raw materials such as municipal solid waste, biomass waste, and crops from degraded/unused land. In the long term, we see so-called Power to Liquids technology making a big contribution.

How have aviation stakeholders evolved their views about SAF in recent years in Europe, especially in light of the ‘Green Deal’?

There has been a visible change in public opinion manifested by support for Greta Thunberg: concrete actions are now expected from aviation to make flying more sustainable.

How is this visible: passengers are asking airlines to do more; companies are responding to consumer preferences for low-emission products and services, and thus governments are now pushing for policies which reduce flying-related emissions. As a result we see the EU targeting to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030, and individual national targets being set to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 (or earlier in some cases in Europe). In aviation, offsetting is no longer seen as sufficient; we see increased support for a requirement for at least a certain proportion of aviation fuel to be SAF.

What tend to be the decisive elements for aviation to start using SAF, and what remain the biggest obstacles to greater SAF uptake?

Cost is the main challenge: SAF is more expensive than fossil jet fuel, and is expected to remain so for the foreseeable future. However, let’s put this into perspective - the extra cost of 10% of all fuel being SAF is no more than what the passenger might spend on a coffee and a coke at the airport.

Regulatory intervention is needed. Requiring a growing share of all fuel to be SAF, through a so-called blending obligation or mandate, is the simplest policy tool to grow the market for SAF. Norway was the first country to implement such a mandate in 2020, and several other countries have committed to follow that path (e.g. Sweden, Netherlands and France). The European Union is also currently exploring the potential to implement a mandate for SAF as part of the European Green Deal.

What should airlines and airports do now to meet future SAF demand and secure adequate SAF supplies?

Actions to create certainty in demand growth are key for the investments required to grow SAF production capacity and become more efficient. Airlines and airports need to show commitment for the required transition, engage and make it easy for their customers to opt to travel using SAF, right from when they make a decision to buy a ticket. Airports can adjust landing and take-off fees to favour flights where SAF is used. The airline industry as a whole needs to take concrete steps towards the long-term goal of reducing aviation emissions by 50% by 2050 (as per the IATA long-term emission reduction target).

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To what degree has the COVID-19 pandemic delayed SAF uptake in terms of willingness to invest in transitioning to SAF?

The industry, including Neste, is investing in growing SAF production capacity for the long-term. COVID has not changed that. There is even as a result of COVID a more heightened awareness of the need to take action to mitigate the negative effects of man-made emissions. Where COVID clearly has had an impact is at the level of aviation travel and the financial capability of airlines to invest upfront in SAF. We see this more as a temporary postponement.

What can aviation actors, from airspace users to airports, to policy-makers and EUROCONTROL, do to make aviation more sustainable faster?

Firstly, make it as attractive and as easy as possible to choose the more sustainable, i.e. lower emission, way - be that airlines making it easy for customers to choose SAF when booking a flight, airports rewarding airlines when they use SAF, or policy-makers putting in place incentives and mandates progressively increasing the use of SAF.

EUROCONTROL has a key role to play to ensure that routes are optimised, hence minimising fuel consumption. EUROCONTROL is also a great source of data to inform a fact-based policy debate. In summary, all players have a role, to move aviation forward to a more sustainable future.

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