The aviation industry is showing more signs that it’s serious about fighting climate change by replacing conventional fuel with cleaner-burning, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
On Tuesday, Delta Air Lines announced an agreement with Chevron for the energy company to manufacture an SAF test batch and sell it to the Atlanta-based carrier. Delta’s goal is to replace 10 percent of its jet fuel with SAF within nine years.
Burning SAF emits significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fossil-based aviation fuel. It’s made by mixing conventional fuel with various renewable materials including cooking oil, plant oils, agricultural residues, and municipal waste.
Delta’s announcement is just one in a series of recent signals revealing how important SAF has become across the industry:
- On Tuesday, British Airways announced it will collaborate with BP to source SAF for all flights between London, and the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh during a climate change summit in Glasgow later this year. BA’s parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), has pledged to spend $400 million to develop SAF during the next 20 years.
- In March, the U.S. airline lobbying group Airlines for America set a goal of working with stakeholders to make 2 billion gallons of SAF available by 2030.
- Last month, Reuters reported that the Biden administration is considering creating incentives to push the U.S. airline industry toward burning 100 percent renewable fuel by 2050.
Keep in mind that U.S. airlines are responsible for just 2 percent of CO2 emissions, nationwide, according to Airlines for America. Nonetheless, the industry appears to be seriously committed to doing its part.
“As aviation continues to define a more sustainable future, understanding the environmental impacts of our operations will be paramount as we look to mitigate climate change,” said Amelia DeLuca, Delta’s managing director of sustainability in a statement Tuesday.
Delta also announced it’s partnering with Google to track emissions from Chevron’s SAF test batch using cloud-based technology. Data results from the test batch will be shared with the industry, Delta said.
Sustainable Fuel for General Aviation
Earlier this year at Los Angeles International Airport (KLAX), the Atlantic Aviation FBO introduced SAF for its BA and GA customer base. In 2019, Los Angeles World Airport (LAWA) introduced SAF at nearby Van Nuys Airport (KVNY), where LAWA said it was at the time the “first general aviation airport in the world to offer this type of fuel.”
But the industry faces a few challenges when it comes to producing SAF.
For one, it can be relatively expensive to manufacture. Production plants and establishing a supply chain for raw materials require big investments. Large-scale production of these fuels could drive the manufacturing costs down, making SAF more affordable.
Many U.S. airlines are already making these kinds of energy infrastructure investments, Airlines for America said in March.
“But the aviation industry will need support from government policy makers, fuel producers, and others in the feedstock and fuel supply chain.”