Neste is creating SAF from used cooking oils. (Neste)
The aviation sector has dubbed sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as a leading solution to curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions despite their lack of supply in the market. A new plan from President Joe Biden may change that.
The White House released broad new set of actions focused on increasing the domestic production and utilization of SAF with the goal of producing three billion gallons of SAF per year and reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2030 while also creating new union jobs. The actions will create a new Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, invest up to $4.3 billion in new and ongoing funding to support SAF, increase research and development opportunities to improve aircraft efficiency, improve aircraft traffic and airport efficiency, and work to strengthen U.S. leadership internationally and domestically.
“The Administration is committed to transforming the aviation sector in a way that creates good-paying union jobs in manufacturing, improves the environmental quality for airport and airline workers, and unlocks rural economic opportunity for sustainable fuels from many different feedstocks and pathways,” the White House statement said. “Taking these and other steps in concert with the aviation sector can drive innovation and support a growing market for cleaner fuels, while reducing and eventually eliminating aviation’s climate impact.”
The new plan includes executive actions across the Department of Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This plan will work with Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda that is working through Congress to create jobs while addressing climate change. The Build Back Better Agenda also includes a SAF tax credit that will provide incentives for fuel using SAF that reduces GHG life cycle emissions by at least 50 percent. The administration will also be releasing an aviation climate action plan in the coming months.
Aviation emissions account for 11 percent of U.S. transportation emissions and will likely increase in the coming years, according to the White House. SAF is made from renewable sources or waste feedstocks and has lower lifecycle GHG emissions than traditional fuels. SAF has been seen as a leading solution by the aviation industry because it requires no aircraft modifications to be used. Currently, aircraft are allowed to run on a 50 percent blend of SAF and Jet A.
The Path to 3 Billion Gallons
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 100 million liters of SAF—about 26 million gallons—will be produced globally in 2021. The White House states that the current domestic production of SAF is about 4.5 million gallons per year. This new goal from the Biden administration will have to increase production in the U.S. significantly to be successful.
A large part of Biden’s plan centers on the creation of a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge–spearheaded by DOE, DOT, and USDA—which aims to lower cost, increase sustainability, and expand production of SAF. The agencies involved will advance research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) of SAF by creating a joint executive team to develop a framework for this initiative, developing a whole-of-government approach to achieve its goals, and creating cross-agency coordination for RDD&D plans.
“The Grand Challenge and the increased production of SAF will play a critical role in a broader set of actions by the United States Government and the private sector to reduce the aviation sector’s emissions in a manner consistent with the goal of netzero emissions for our economy, and to put the aviation sector on a pathway to full decarbonization by 2050,” the memorandum of understanding states. “In recognition of the critical role that drop-in synthesized hydrocarbon fuels from waste streams, renewable energy sources or gaseous carbon oxidesor SAF- will play in addressing our climate change crisis and its role for jobs and the economy, the Parties undertake this MOU to ensure the highest level of collaboration and coordination across our Agencies.”
The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge is just one tactic the administration is planning to use.
- The USDA will support farmers with climate-smart agriculture practices and fuel producers with carbon modeling components of aviation biofuel feedstocks.
- The EPA and DOE will establish data collection needs and technical information to expedite the regulatory approval process.
- The FAA will assist with safety evaluation testing with funds to the Aviation Sustainability CENTer (ASCENT) university center of excellence totaling more than $3.6M.
- The DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office has announced $35 million in recent funding for projects that will develop feedstocks for SAF and will invest $61 million in new projects to support SAF pathways.
- The DOE loan office will offer $3 billion in loan guarantees for commercial SAF projects.
- The Defense Department will use funding to create more SAF pathways for its aircraft including approving four pathways already approved in the commercial market and creating an ASTM approval pipeline for SAF pathways for warfighters. This action is subject to appropriations.
Increasing Fuel Efficiency by 30 Percent
The administration is also looking at ways to increase aircraft fuel efficiency to meet its emissions goals. The executive action specifically instructs agencies to increase research and development activities for new technologies for this part of its plan.
- The Sustainable Flight National Partnership from NASA will allow the agency to collaborate with the FAA and industry partners to advance new aircraft and engine technologies that reduce CO2 emissions.
- The FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) Program will award $100 million for new technologies that lower emissions, improve efficiency, and reduce noise.
- The DoD will invest funds toward making legacy aircraft more efficient and developing new aircraft that are more energy efficient.
- DOE will use $115 million in funding to advance battery technology for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and short-range consumer aircraft.
- DOE ARPA-E is using $16.5 million in funding to develop technologies that will fill gaps in the biofuel supply chain through projects in the Systems for Monitoring and Analytics for Renewable Transportation Fuels from Agricultural Resources and Management (SMARTFARM) program.
Making Airports More Green
This new action does not only look at SAF and the aircraft themselves but air traffic and airport efficiencies. The administration is instructing the FAA and EPA to take actions to reduce fuel use, eliminate lead exposure, and make the air in and around airports cleaner.
The FAA has been awarded $20.4 million in grants to tackle airport air quality and begin creating electric charging infrastructure for ground vehicles. The FY22 Presidential Budget Request allocated $50 million for the FAA to create the Aviation Climate Research (ACR) program. The agency will also launch a new project to develop a contrail avoidance tool.
The EPA will work with the FAA to curb exposure to lead emissions and eliminate lead from aviation gasoline.
The administration’s actions will also address how federal employees travel. The GSA will spearhead this issue releasing an RFI—which will be released in October—to uncover information about increasing the sustainability of federal air travel.
On an international scale, the U.S. will implement CORSIA to demonstrate its commitment to its goals and leadership ambitions at the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The White House cites commitments from the aviation sector to support its goals. The action lists commitments from commercial airlines like United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue. The administration also lists support from cargo airlines like FedEx, Atlas Air, Amazon AIR, DHL Express, and UPS.
Airlines for American (A4A), whose commitments were also cited in the administration action, was present at a White House roundtable on sustainable aviation.
“We are proud of our record on climate change, but we know the climate change challenge has only continued to intensify. Accordingly, A4A member carriers have embraced the need to take even bolder, more significant steps to address the climate crisis,” Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said at a White House roundtable on sustainable aviation. “Today, I am pleased to announce that we are increasing our SAF ‘challenge goal’ by an additional 50 percent. To get there, we must work together – industry and government. These goals are important, but they are meaningless without action. A4A and our members are taking and are committed to action, and we are committed to working together, across this industry and with Congress and the Administration, to make these goals a reality.”
The administration named specific fuel providers who have already set SAF production goals such as LanzaJet, World Energy, Gevo, Fulcrum, Velocys, BP, Virent, Honeywell, Shell, Neste, Marquis, Green Plains Inc., ADM, Prometheus, Aemetis, and members of the Renewable Fuels Association and members of Growth Energy.
“To meet the challenge of scaling up to billions of gallons over a decade, both policy support and producer commitments will be critical to driving domestic innovation and deployment,” the White House statement said. “Scaling up domestic SAF production will involve a wide variety of different feedstocks and pathways, and the industry will continue to explore a diverse set of options, including the potential to convert biofuels such as ethanol into jet fuel.”