Report: Sustainable Aviation Fuel Is a Fantasy

Lawmakers hoping the aviation industry will be able to pivot to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) are in for a disappointment, with a new report calling SAFs a "marketing ploy."...
Report: Sustainable Aviation Fuel Is a Fantasy
Written by Matt Milano
  • Lawmakers hoping the aviation industry will be able to pivot to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) are in for a disappointment, with a new report calling SAFs a “marketing ploy.”

    Lawmakers and climate activists have targeted the airline industry and its carbon footprint. Many have pinned their hopes on SAFs, with some lawmakers pushing for regulation that would require the airline industry to move to SAFs.

    There’s just one problem: According to the Institute for Policy Studies, SAFs are little more than a fantasy.

    This fuel is typically made from crops or waste and can be substituted for current forms of jet fuel, or more likely mixed with it, ostensibly reducing emissions.

    Unfortunately, we find that these fuels are largely — so far — a false solution.

    There is currently no realistic or scalable alternative to kerosene-based fuels that would meet current aviation needs, let alone the industry’s projections of future growth. At present, SAF technologies would fail to meet U.S. climate goals by the target year of 2050.

    As the Institute highlights, SAFs are especially being touted by the private jet industry, since its carbon footprint is 10 to 20 times worse per passenger than commercial airlines. As a result, lawmakers are particularly focused on the private jet industry, driving it to bank on SAFs as a solution.

    The Institute acknowledges that true SAFs are possible, but the resources required to create them at scale would defeat the purpose and raise additional societal issues.

    • Scaling up SAF production may thwart emissions reduction goals. Currently, in order to rapidly expand the production of sustainable aviation fuels, producers must use biogenic feedstocks — which could threaten global food security as well as nature-based carbon sequestration solutions such as the preservation of forests and wetlands. Plus, burning SAFs still emits CO2 — sometimes more than that of kerosene-based jet fuel. As such, SAF production may actively undermine Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets.
    • Realistic increases in SAF production are decades off. In 2022, the U.S. produced just 15.8 million gallons of SAF. Meeting the Biden administration’s 2030 SAF production target of 3 billion gallons per year would require an 18,887 percent production increase over the next six years. To meet the 2050 target of 35 billion gallons, production would have to increase a whopping 227,400 percent over 2022 production levels.

    The cost of scaling up SAF production remains prohibitive as well. For example, it is estimated that it would cost roughly $30 billion to create the necessary infrastructure to meet the 2030 goal of producing 3 billion gallons that the Biden administration has established.

    The Institute acknowledges that more research is needed, along with improvements in technology. In the meantime, however, the recommendation is simply to fly less, especially when it comes to private jets.

    Private jet expansion, even with alternative fuels, is the least defensible use of societal resources on a warming planet.

    The full report can be found here.

    Get the WebProNews newsletter delivered to your inbox

    Get the free daily newsletter read by decision makers

    Advertise with Us

    Ready to get started?

    Get our media kit