British engineering company Rolls-Royce has said it will partner with oil company Shell to work on the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in line with both firms’ plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
The pair signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday (30 June) which Rolls-Royce said would help with plans to certify 100% SAF for use in planes.
Created from advanced biofuels and renewable electro-fuels, SAFs can be blended with kerosene without changes to aircraft engines, making it an attractive means of decarbonisation for the airline industry as low-carbon jet technology such as e-planes and hydrogen power come to maturity.
In the aviation sector, its biggest business, Rolls-Royce plans to make all its commercial engines compatible to run on 100% SAF, which produces up to 70% less carbon than conventional fuel, by 2023.
The challenge for SAFs is that there is a shortage of supply, which the Shell partnership could help address.
Rolls-Royce Chief Technology Officer Paul Stein said in a statement that both companies wanted to decarbonise flying.
“We believe that working together on these aims can deliver benefits for both the development of new innovations as well as collaborating to find ways to unlock the net carbon emissions reduction potential of technology that is already in use today,” he said.
The EU will soon release a legislative proposal obliging aircraft refuelling at EU airports to use green jet fuel.
The ReFuelEU Aviation proposal is expected to be launched on 14 July as part of a wider package of climate legislation, enshrining into law the EU’s goal of cutting emissions by 55% by 2030 on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050.
Sources with knowledge of the upcoming proposal indicated to EURACTIV that there will be an overall mandate covering SAFs, with a starting point of 2% in 2025, moving to 5% in 2030, 20% in 2035, 32% in 2040, and 63% in 2050.
Penalties in case of non-compliance are also being considered, the same sources indicated.
The legislation has prompted a debate over what fuel sources should be approved as sustainable. Environmental campaigners are pushing for food-based crops to be omitted from the list of eligible SAFs, while industry highlights the lower emissions from biofuels compared to fossil fuels.
Airlines have reacted with cautious optimism to drafts of the regulation. While most welcome a SAF blending mandate, they warn that mandating too ambitious a target too quickly could lead to supply issues, undermining the scheme.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]