With aviation fully embarked on its journey to net zero by 2050, if not sooner, new aviation fuels will have a key role to play along the way.
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrogen and electric propulsion technologies will be integral, but what is the optimum option for airports, what makes sense for airframers, what are the timelines and what are the costs? These were all questions addressed by a panel composed of airports, airlines and fuel suppliers and at this year’s Connect 2023 being hosted in Tangier, Morocco.
As a solution that’s available right now, SAF has a significant role to play in reducing carbon emissions immediately, said Ricardo Diniz, Air bp’s Business Development Lead.
“At Air bp we need to act as a referee to help define the percentages of SAF that are needed and the investment and pathways that are required to meet that demand. As a fuel supplier we are aiming to provide 100,000 tonnes of SAF per day by 2030 and are currently investing in five refinery projects to achieve that,” he said.
Matthew Whitton, VP Supply Aviation and Land at World Fuel Services added: “When it comes to feedstocks aviation is competing with other industries for access to those. However, as SAF pathways evolve and there is greater opportunity for carbon capture and green hydrogen that will enable us to capture SAF from non-competing sectors.”
Swedavia’s Head of Sustainable Development, Lena Wennberg, underlined that it will take “brave politicians and governments who will support the transition to fossil free aviation to achieve those goals. Expanding and increasing access to new raw materials to produce SAF is key.”
Having recently agreed a supply contract for its SAF requirements over the next five years, easyJet’s Sustainability Manager, Magdalena Golebiewska pointed out: “Since that first SAF fuelling in 2008 with Virgin Atlantic we have moved on with SAF being more widely recognised and various trials to increase the SAF blend, but we haven’t seen the upscaling I would have liked to see.”
Moving away from SAF electric aircraft is an exciting prospect for small, regional flights but alot of work needs to be done to improve the charging infrastructure, continued Golebiewska.
“Future airports must look deeper into producing energy from renewable sources themselves, added Swedavia’s Wennberg. “It takes a lot of energy – 2MW to charge an aircraft for 30 minutes and this will be a challenge for many airports when dealing with multiple aircraft and handling turnaround times, particularly small regional hubs.”
Hydrogen also has a key role to play in the future of flight, she said, with Golebiewska adding that “hydrogen is an exciting prospect. I have seen more development in this area over the last two years than with SAF over the last 15.”
The challenge with hydrogen is that it requires a much greater investment in terms of capital and infrastructure than SAF. easyJet is already collaborating with Bristol Airport in the UK to explore the ground infrastructure required to support hydrogen refuellings.
“That’s when it comes back to SAF being available now,” reiterated Diniz. “With Air bp looking to produce 100,000 barrels per day by 2030 that will however require huge investment from our side. To support that government mandates, incentives and support is essential and will give common ground for fuel producers, airports, airlines and OEMs to scale up SAF produc