This article is part of our special report Sustainable aviation fuels.
The European Commission has confirmed that the upcoming ReFuelEU Aviation initiative will impose a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) blending mandate, with the EU executive suggesting it will apply to all flights taking off from European airports, regardless of whether their destination is inside the bloc.
“We want to have maximum impact. Obviously, in order to do that, we should probably not limit ourselves to internal flights, but rather to all flights that depart from European airports,” said Filip Cornelis, director of aviation with the European Commission’s transport directorate.
Cornelis made the comments Tuesday (20 April) at the European Business Aviation SAF Summit, a forum to discuss the role of SAFs in decarbonising the private jet industry. SAFs can be blended to high percentages with kerosene without requiring changes to the aircraft engine, making them an attractive means to cut emissions.
The blending mandate will ensure “a level playing field” for operators working out of European airports, and rapidly boost the production of SAFs, according to Cornelis. The requirement will come in the form of a regulation, meaning it will immediately apply across member states once adopted.
A source with knowledge of the upcoming proposal told EURACTIV that the EU is planning to gradually scale up the use of SAFs, with a starting point of 2% in 2025, moving to 5% in 2030, 20% in 2035, 32% in 2040, and 63% in 2050. The initiative is expected to be published before the summer.
Rather than placing a requirement on each airline, the regulation is expected to oblige EU airports to carry SAFs, meaning all tanking aircraft will use green jet fuel.
“We’re hoping to create a very simple instrument, possibly without a take-up obligation on airlines individually. If we manage to secure the supply of those blends everywhere then we don’t actually need to check airline by airline how much is uplifted,” said Cornelis.
“My hope would be that as an operator, you wouldn’t need to bother too much about the sourcing of any particular type of biofuel or sustainable e-fuel. You could just [refuel with] what is being offered at your airport.”
Some paperwork will still be necessary, Cornelis added, as a record of the amount of SAF used by each airline will be needed to obtain credits for the Emission Trading Scheme, the EU’s carbon market.
A “modest’ increase in jet fuel cost
During her keynote address, EU transport commissioner Adina Vălean acknowledged that industry “may end up paying a little more” for SAFs but said any increase in fuel costs “should be modest”.
“The cost for clean fuels must be shared as early as possible, just as the transition to sustainable fuels must be driven and endorsed by the entire aviation community,” said the commissioner.
“Targets will be binding on the one hand, but on the other hand, they must be realistic, initially modest, and then become more ambitious beyond 2030,” she added.
Commissioner Vălean also insisted on the need to “convince” the aviation industry outside of the EU that SAFs “are the right choice to ensure aviation has a sustainable future”.
German MEP Jan-Christoph Oetjen called for immediate investment into the technology and infrastructure necessary for the wide-scale rollout of SAFs, which he labelled “one of the most promising technologies” to decarbonise aviation.
“Despite the severe situation faced by international aviation, the EU now has the opportunity to build a better, greener, and cleaner aviation business model,” said Oetjen.
While questions remain as to what type of fuels will qualify as SAFs, Cornelis announced that the general sustainability rules contained in the soon-to-be-revised Renewable Energy Directive will act as a guide.
He also stated that the EU is considering a sub-mandate for synthetic fuels, such as e-kerosene, to boost production in the sector.
Andrew Murphy, aviation director at green NGO Transport & Environment and a panelist at the event, insisted on choosing the right type of fuels for SAFs “from the get go”.
“It’s important to recognise that any fuel which comes from the land is going to be competing with forestry and food,” he said.
“There is a potentially limitless amount of renewable electricity in a way there isn’t an unlimited amount of municipal solid waste or an unlimited amount of land. And if the business aviation sector is wondering what’s the biggest impact it can have, it’s delivering demand and investment into fuel which can be scaled up.”
Industry welcoming of SAF
Representatives of the business aviation industry welcomed the shift to SAFs, with many characterising it as an essential transition fuel while clean aircraft technology, such as hydrogen-powered and electric jets, come to maturity.
The high-price of SAF compared to fossil-fuels remains a barrier to wider uptake, but those in business aviation are better situated than commercial airlines thanks to a generally lower price sensitivity, the audience heard.
“Many operators are ready to take up the environmental responsibility. Many operators in business aviation and their clients are ready to actually pay a premium price,” said Juergen Wiese, head of BMW flight services.
Thierry Lamant of French aircraft manufacturer Dassault said that while improvements in efficiency may bring small percentage gains in lowering carbon emissions, SAFs offer a rapid leap forward: “The great benefit of SAF is really to bring us, now, immediately, a possible 80% improvement in terms of CO2 reduction.”
The close of the conference saw the launch of the “European Business Aviation Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuel“, a commitment from the sector to enhance the production and uptake of SAFs.
“The single-largest potential reduction in aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions — and key to reaching goals to reduce them — will come about through the broad adoption of SAF,” the business aviation coalition said in a statement.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]