SAF – Charting a path to zero carbon aviation

The impact of using SAF – Eliminating or reducing its carbon footprint problem is the biggest challenge the aviation industry faces today.

Tackling green house gas emissions is on everybody’s mind and Vistara’s remarkable initiative of  operating a Boeing 787 aircraft on the commercial domestic Delhi-Mumbai route is finally the coming of age for sustainable aviation fuels in  India. The Delhi-Mumbai flight used a blend of 17%  SAF with 83% conventional jet fuel, thus easing the flight’s CO2 emissions by approximately 10,000 pounds.

The impact of using SAF

Eliminating or reducing its carbon footprint problem is the biggest challenge the aviation industry faces today. A critical but under-utilized fuel option Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), happens to apparently be the only answer for lower carbon emitting long haul flights, that can help aviation’s goal of a net zero emitting industry by 2050. Also, not known to many of the general society SAF is a proven technology, used as far back as during WWII to fly fighters when oil was scarce.

An astoundingly versatile fuel it can be used in any aircraft and has already powered more than 300,000 flights around the world without the aircraft having to go through any technical conversions. Reports have proven that this in fact is a vital advantage for the aviation’s energy transition, making it possible for flights to fly one way on SAF and one way on fossil fuel.

India in its current position is the world’s eighth-largest aviation market and is projected to rank third by 2025. Moreover, the nation also generates abundant amounts of agricultural residues such as farming byproducts, husks and chaff, used cooking oil, and other solid waste feedstocks that are the core raw materials required to produce SAF.

India roughly produces 166 million tons of feedstocks every year which on conversion works to around 23 to 25 million tons of SAf produced. Fortunately, India enjoys the availability of low-cost renewable-energy sources and the technology required to scale up deployment of SAF, however for India to lead in SAF production a sense of allegiance, and collaboration from across all stakeholders is key.

Main priority areas

Eco-systems for feedstock collection and production: Putting together infrastructures that applies new digital technologies and mechanisms at the farm level from end-to-end segregation to the Hydrothermal Liquefaction process

Logistics and Delivery systems : Since SAFs are nearly identical to current forms of fossil-based jet fuels, their deployment will require minimal additional infrastructure and delivery infrastructure. However, blending facilities would have to be constructed along delivery routes, as current regulations prohibit blending on airport grounds.

Pricing: Still an emerging fuel source SAFs are priced between 150 to 500 per cent more than traditional jet fuels. While it is predicted that costs would fall as demand and production increases, bridging the cost gap at this point of time would require government intervention and private investments.

Besides being a low carbon emitting fuel alternatives, SAFs socio-economic benefits are multiple. A Mckinsey report has project that the SAF industry will generate a combined GDP equivalent of $2.8 billion for India, assuming that annual SAF production reaches 360,000 tons by 2030. More than 120,000 new green jobs would be created, farmers’ incomes would increase by between 10 and 15 percent, and better waste-management systems and less open-air burning would lead to overall reductions in pollution.

Considering the numerous social, economic, and environmental advantages of SAF it becomes all the more critical for India’s aviation stakeholders to quickly scale SAF production and use. However, to guarantee it’s implemented efficiently, sustainably, and cost-effectively, a strategic and sequenced coalition between policy makers and industry  becomes fundamental to ramp up production, avoid supply bottlenecks and price volatility.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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