On May 14, 2022, Transport Secretary, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps announced plans to deliver the world’s first net-zero emissions transatlantic flight powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Shapps delivered this news during a meeting with airline executives during a trip to the U.S. The UK government intends to work closely with the international sector to deliver the demonstrator flight in 2023. The flight will provide invaluable data concerning future work for testing and certifying the use of SAF.
What is SAF?
To reduce their carbon footprint and make their products more sustainable, the aviation industry has been looking for alternative fuel sources. The most promising of these is SAF. Sustainable aviation fuel is a type of low-carbon fuel made from sustainable sources such as natural gas and plant oils. It can be used as an alternative to jet fuel in aircraft with little or no modification to the engine or aircraft.
The Carbon Offsetting Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) was developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and adopted in October 2016. The scheme is a market-based mechanism used by the ICAO to achieve its goals of increasing fuel efficiency by 2% per year and carbon-neutral growth of civil aviation from 2020 onwards. According to the ICAO, “Annex 16 Volume IV defines a CORSIA Sustainable Aviation Fuel as a renewable or waste-derived aviation fuel that meets the CORSIA Sustainability Criteria under this volume”.
The SAF certification process ensures that the fuel meets all international standards for use in aircraft and does not contain any harmful chemicals such as sulphur, lead, mercury, or benzene.
Supporting the UK SAF Industry
According to the UK government, the use of 100% SAF is not supported by current jet fuel specifications. Additional decarbonisation measures must be combined with SAF to be fully net-zero.
The government is pushing forward to accelerate the testing and approval of 100% SAF to make the nation’s net-zero goals a reality. Additionally, the government will continue working alongside industry to tackle some of the obstacles facing a higher uptake of SAF including high fuel production costs, feedstocks availability, and technology risk at the commercial scale.
In a recent news release, the chief executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, commented, “We look forward to working with ministers through the Jet Zero Council to continue to explore mechanisms to attract the required private investment – in addition to a planned mandate – so we can help deliver the government’s 10% SAF uptake goal by 2030”.
The government is exploring a SAF mandate and is funnelling £180 million into the UK SAF industry over the next three years. This investment is hoped to spur the commercialisation of SAF plants and help establish a fuel testing clearing house in the UK.
A Milestone Transatlantic Flight
This milestone, in the move towards more sustainable aviation, is supported by Innovate UK, LanzaTech, and Rolls-Royce plc (RR).
In the same news release, the CEO of LanzaTech, Jennifer Holmgren, said, “We applaud the UK government’s leadership in working with industry and setting ambitious goals for the aviation sector. It is only by working together, that we will see the transformative change needed to deliver on the commitments to meet Net Zero”.
In another news release from Sustainable Future News, we saw RR announce the approval of its mtu diesel engines for operation with sustainable fuels by its Power Systems business unit (Power Systems). But achieving this milestone is not enough for RR. The company plans to help the UK government deliver the 2023 demonstrator flight with the provision of its technology.
In this recent news release, the CEO of RR, Warren East, commented, “This is an exciting and ambitious challenge, which Rolls-Royce is ready to support having successfully tested our large commercial aero engines on 100% sustainable aviation fuel over the last year”. East added, “We have the technology to help the UK government achieve its objectives, and we look forward to working closely with them to deliver this milestone transatlantic flight”.
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