Are all renewable aviation fuels equally sustainable?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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"Not indiscriminate support though: if just the recycled cooking oil the EU used in 2017-2019 for road biodiesel would have gone into aviation, the block would have reduced 3 million tonnes less GHGs!" [Source: Michael Fiedler-Panajotopoulos]

A recent European Commission inception impact assessment on “ReFuelEU Aviation” presents ideas about a future EU law to promote renewable aviation fuels, labelled as “Sustainable” Aviation Fuels (SAF). These offer a legitimate way to reduce GHG emissions and deserve our support, writes Michael Fiedler-Panajotopoulos.

Michael Fiedler-Panajotopoulos is Director of Public Affairs of REG Europe and President of the European Waste-to-Advanced Biofuels Association (EWABA) and MVaK.**

This article focuses on dedicated lipids (fats) to renewable aviation fuels production, which in the jet fuel industry is called HEFA-SPK (synthesized paraffinic kerosene from hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids)

But they don’t need indiscriminate support, however: if just the recycled cooking oil the EU used in 2017-2019 for road biodiesel would have gone into aviation, the bloc would have 3 million tonnes less GHG mitigation!

EU institutions owe it to EU citizens to base their renewable fuels policies on objective criteria: Cost efficiency, GHG reduction and feedstock conversion effectiveness. On all three counts, terrestrial use of (mainly waste) lipids for transport is a superior solution to the use in aviation.

Proponents of the use of (waste) lipids in aviation often use the “no alternative” argument. The truth is that several projects based on different pathways are in the construction phase as we speak, so we should assume that one-sided interests are behind this incorrect assertion.

The other argument used to “direct liquid road transport fuels into aviation” comes 20 years too early as – despite increasing electrification in the segment of light vehicles – there will be tens of millions of combustion engine vehicles on the EU’s roads well into the 2040s.

These do currently use less than 10% renewable molecules, so there is huge upward potential here.

At REG we look at a holistic impact of our market and products on society and therefore do not support requests to disproportionately incentivize (waste) lipids into aviation at the expense of terrestrial fuels that use the same feedstock more efficiently and with greater net GHG reductions.

These usage standards would effectively ask European citizens, who ultimately pay for the incentives, to pay more for renewable fuel while receiving fewer environmental benefits.


**RENEWABLE ENERGY GROUP is the biggest biomass-based diesel producer in North America and rapidly expanding in Europe with trading, production and waste feedstock pre-treatment activities this side of the Atlantic.

REG is the only player in the space of fossil middle distillate (diesel-type fuels) replacements that masters both main existing technologies: biodiesel & HVO. (Note: kerosene is also a middle distillate).

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