Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is globally recognised by the aviation industry as a key element to helping accelerate carbon reduction in airfreight. How so? SAF can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of aviation significantly when used as a direct replacement for fossil jet fuel. As it is chemically similar and is 100% compatible with existing jet engines and fueling infrastructure, it can be easily used as a blend requiring zero additional investment.

What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)?

There are several types of Sustainable Aviation Fuel. SAFs can be produced from sustainable biomass or electricity. Given the required scale-up of the use of SAF to decarbonise aviation, the industry needs to promote the development of all existing SAF technologies.

HEFA-based SAF is using mainly vegetable oils and animal fats and presents the highest technology and market readiness, but there are not only other biofuels (Fischer-Tropsch and alcohol-to-jet) but also Power-to-Liquids fuels which will theoretically have unlimited feedstock (renewable electricity, hydrogen and captured CO2).

The impact of using SAF is evident. By using carbon that is already in the ecosystem, we prevent the extraction of new fossil fuels and releasing new carbon emissions into the fragile atmosphere.

Why is SAF important?

In order to fulfil the aviation industry’s 2050 Net Zero Carbon Emission Commitment, immediate adoption of SAF is critical.

Around 65% of the necessary carbon reductions by 2050 are estimated to come from using sustainable aviation fuel.

While the research and innovation continues on electrification of aircraft and hydrogen fuel, these are still in the early stages of development and it will take at least 15 years to contribute to any meaningful reduction of carbon emissions in our sector. This would be too late to produce any significant change of trajectory in carbon emissions which are now urgently needed. 

A comparison of the different decarbonisation solutions is summarised by Mission Possible Partnership in the following table1.

comparison of decarbonisation solutions

SAF is a safe, proven and above all, available replacement for fossil jet fuel that is already being used by many leading commercial airlines, and thus is a crucial piece to the airfreight decarbonisation puzzle that is ready and available today.

SAF vs fossil fuel lifecycles

The contrast is simple.

Burning fossil jet fuel increases the GHG concentration in the atmosphere, accelerating climate change; whereas emissions from using SAF produced from renewable raw materials do not increase GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. 

Emissions produced from SAF are considered as ‘carbon circulation’, according to CORSIA and the EU Renewable Energy Directive. 

CORSIA is the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, adopted in 2016 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to steer the aviation industry in stabilising its net CO2 emissions and make all growth in international flights after 2020 carbon neutral.

The method used to calculate fuel life cycle emissions and emission reduction relies on CORSIA’s default Life Cycle Emission values.

Jet fuel life cycle covers the whole life cycle of the fuel from upstream emissions to fuel combustion. The upstream, or so called Well-to-Tank (WTT) emissions, include emissions from the production and transport of feedstock, fuel production and transport. Emissions from fuel combustion are called Tank-to-Wake (TTW) emissions. The whole life cycle emissions are called Well-to-Wake (WTW).

Carbon dioxide emissions from the use-phase of SAF are considered to amount to zero, because the CO2 released upon combustion equals the amount that the renewable raw material absorbed at an earlier stage. This results in a closed carbon cycle which doesn’t release additional carbon into the environment, unlike the burning of fossil fuels.

Life cycle GHG emission reduction depends on the feedstocks and processes used to manufacture the fuel as there are also emissions related to the production and treatment of renewable raw materials, as well as fuel refining and all transportation steps.

As a baseline, the GHG emissions of fossil fuels over the life cycle are 89 gCO2e/MJ. With Neste MY Sustainable Aviation FuelTM, the feedstocks will range from used cooking oil based HEFA, which emit 13.9 gCO2e/MJ, to tallow based HEFA which emit 22.5 gCO2e/MJ, resulting in an emission reduction of up to 80%.

SAF and Net Zero 2050

The current scale of the industry requires that 1.8 gigatons of carbon need to be mitigated that year2 to achieve IATA’s Net Zero 2050 Commitment, in line with the Paris Agreement goal for global warming not to exceed 1.5°C. 

IATA forecasts that 65% of this 1.8 gigatons of carbon needs to be mitigated through SAF.  Accounting for research and innovation development, hydrogen will later address 13%, with efficiency improvements equating to a further 3%. Carbon capture and storage could cover 11% and the balance of 8% through offsets. 

The bottom line is that SAF plays a critical role in this collaborative plan globally. According to IATA, SAF production was over 100 million litres in 20213 and to meet the 2050 target, 449 billion litres need to be produced.

Every single player of the industry can do their part, no matter their size, to set in motion the economics of demand and supply, (i.e. purchasing SAF will increase demand for SAF, and will drive production costs down in the long run). Increased SAF demand and materialised purchase, together with the right set of mandates and incentives need to rapidly increase the production of SAF and gradually soften investment impacts, to the extent that it becomes a norm for any carrier.

Book-and-Claim SAF Model

Our biggest challenge today with SAF is that supply points are limited in getting the SAF from its production point to its usage point (the airport). Delivering SAF to an airport far from the supply chain is expensive, and not carbon-friendly; overall defeating our global objective. 

Currently, supply points for SAF are mainly across Europe and North America. The Book-and-Claim model allows freight forwarders to commit to a specific quantity of SAF purchase and trigger the SAF production. Thereafter the SAF producer will physically deliver the SAF to its partner airports, introducing SAF into the airport fuelling ecosystem. Even though the purchased SAF will not be used to transport the freight forwarder’s own goods, it can still be claimed against Scope 3 emission reductions.

This process follows the principles of established GHG accounting and reporting frameworks (GHG Protocol) as recommended by SBTi, with transparent and reliable audit trail for accountability between each party to the end freight forwarder. It ensures that carbon reductions generated from the use SAF are not double-counted across carbon reporting.

CargoAi offers the possibility to purchase SAF in the Book-and-Claim model to freight forwarders, who will eventually receive a Delivery Confirmation document stating the carbon dioxide emission reduction, which can be used for reporting against SBTi targets.