Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) – Everything You Need to Know

Given the volume of fuel that private jets consume, along with the significant rising cost of fuel, it is important to discuss alternatives to traditional Jet A and Jet A-1 fuels – namely Sustainable Aviation Fuel. Moreover, given recent events, it is important to discuss the ways in which the aviation industry is trying to reduce its footprint.

However, there are many misconceptions around what SAF is, along with what it is not.

Therefore, here is the comprehensive guide to everything to do with Sustainable Aviation Fuel. From what it is, to its benefits, drawbacks, where to find it, and, crucially, is it actually important or is it just greenwashing?

Private jet being fuelled - Sustainable Aviation Fuel

What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel?

The technical definition of SAF is “SAF is Jet-A/A-1 fuel that meets requirements per ASTM D1655 (US), Def. Std. 91-91 (British) and CAN/CGSB- 3-23 (Canadian) jet fuel specifications, whose origin is ASTM D7566 (Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons), and is re-identified as D1655 Jet-A or Jet A-1 fuel.”

However, it is important to break down this definition further.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel – commonly referred to as SAF – is a sustainable version of Jet A and Jet A-1 fuel.

SAF is a completely drop-in solution. This means that aircraft can be powered by SAF without needing to be modified in any way.

Moreover, SAF is made up of a blend of conventional jet fuel with non-conventional, more sustainable blending agents. This is how it is able to be instantly substituted with regular jet fuel.

The blending component by itself is often referred to as “neat SAF”.

Business jet being fuelled up - sustainable aviation fuel

Moreover, given that SAF is a relatively recent term, it is sometimes referred to by other names. For example, bio-jet, bio-kerosene, alternative jet, and non-conventional jet fuel are all acceptable terms.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels are produced from biomass or recycled carbon. These blends meet stringent sustainability standards with respect to land, water, and energy use.

Moreover, SAFs avoid Direct and Indirect Land Use Change. For example, tropical deforestation does not take place for the production of SAFs. Furthermore, the production of SAFs does not displace or compete with food crops. This, therefore, results in a positive socio-economic impact.

Under the umbrella of Sustainable Aviation Fuels, there are two key elements.

Firstly, sustainability. This requires that something can be continually and repeatedly carried out. However, it must be carried out in a manner consistent with economic, social, and environmental aims. Moreover, this needs to be something that conserves and promotes an ecological balance by avoiding the depletion of natural resources.

Secondly, aviation fuel. Under the regulations outlined in ASTM D7566, SAF blends meet all the requirements for use in turbine-powered aircraft.

In terms of the production of SAF, there are a variety of sources. From cooking oil to plant oil. Solid municipal waste to wood waste. Additionally, waste gases can be used, along with sugars and purpose-grown biomass.

Why Use SAF?

The motivation for using SAF is clear, to reduce the environmental impact that aviation has on the planet.

Despite the fact that aviation contributes only around 2% of all global carbon emissions, it is important to reduce emissions where possible. However, it is also important to note that business aviation only contributes around 0.04% to all global carbon emissions.

No matter, given the targets set by the ICAO – to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – steps need to be taken now.

And, critically, SAF is one of the most effective ways to reduce aviation’s environmental impact today.

Additionally, according to SkyNRG, around 99% of airline emissions and around 50% of airport emissions are related to the combustion of jet fuel. Therefore, being able to reduce the environmental impact of jet fuel will provide significant, noticeable decreases.

Of course, the future is bright with other, more effective solutions. For example, introducing hydrogen or electric-powered aircraft. However, there is still a long way to go before these propulsion systems enter the mainstream.

Therefore, for the time being, the aviation industry is reliant on liquid fuels. Consequently, it is important to minimize the damage caused by liquid fuels. The present-day solution, therefore, comes back to SAF.

Benefits of Sustainable Aviation Fuel

The primary benefit of SAF is a reduction in CO2 emissions. Of course, this is in comparison with conventional jet fuel. This is achieved through the source of carbon.

Fossil fuels release additional carbon that was previously stored in reservoirs. In comparison, SAF recycles CO2 emissions that were previously emitted. These emissions have then been aborted from the atmosphere during biomass production.

Another benefit of SAF is an improvement in local air quality. When used it can reduce direct emissions compared with conventional jet fuel. Sustainable Aviation Fuel can see a reduction of up to 90% of particulate matter (PM) and a reduction of up to 100% of sulfur (SOX).

Thirdly, SAF can also provide a marginal increase in fuel efficiency. Thanks to SAF having a higher energy density than conventional jet fuel, an increase of 1.5% to 3% in fuel efficiency can occur. Not only will this increase the range of an aircraft, but it will also decrease its hourly fuel burn figure. This, in turn, will reduce the emissions produced from an aircraft during its mission.

Drawbacks of Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Whether or not you approve of aviation, Sustainable Aviation Fuel should be supported by all in a bid to reduce emissions. While it is not the smoking gun to eliminate the negative environmental impact of aviation, it is better than conventional jet fuel.

Therefore, the drawbacks of SAF come down to price and availability.

As you would expect, SAF is more expensive to produce than conventional jet fuel. Given that SAF is relatively new and produced in smaller quantities than conventional jet fuel, there simply aren’t the economies of scale to reduce the price to that of jet fuel.

Therefore, when it comes to fuelling up an aircraft, SAF will cost more than conventional jet fuel. And, as is common, this expense will be passed onto the consumer. This is hardly surprising given the cost to fuel up a private jet.

The consequence of this is not just that it is more expensive, it then comes down to the effectiveness of SAF. It is all too common to find that everyone wishes to protect the environment until they have to pay for it.

The second drawback of SAF is availability. Naturally, SAF can’t be stored in the same tanks as jet fuel. Therefore, airports need alternative facilities to support this alternative. Naturally, this requires additional investment from the airport. The problem here is what benefit does the airport get for supplying SAF?

At present, ICAO claim that there are currently 38 airports around the globe that offer Sustainable Aviation Fuel. The majority of these airports are based in North America and Europe.

While this is an excellent start, given that there are over 8,000 airports in the world that are capable of handling a private jet, it is unlikely that your next mission will be powered by SAF.

How Does it Reduce Emissions?

When investigating the benefits of SAF and its positive impact, the crucial term that comes up is “lifecycle”.

Moreover, there are a series of factors that will affect the exact percentage reduction in carbon emissions. For example, factors such as the feedstock used, production method, and supply chain to the airport, will all impact its effectiveness.

This, therefore, leads to its method of reducing emissions. Essentially, emissions are reduced moderately at every stage.

For example, the traditional path of petroleum-based aviation fuel starts with extraction, transport, refining, transport, distribution, and then flight. Each stage contributes additional carbon emissions.

Jet fuel liquid up close

However, SAF follows a different journey – albeit sharing some elements with conventional jet fuel given that they are blended together.

SAF starts with the feedstock growth. This is then transported, processing, refining and blending, distribution to airports, and then flight.

However, the production of SAF is far more cyclical. That is to say that the feedstock being used for SAF is absorbing some of the carbon produced from the burning of fuel.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, SAF can provide a 1.5% to 3% increase in fuel efficiency among aircraft.

How Are Sustainable Aviation Fuels Made?

SAFs are produced from a variety of feedstocks and waste products. At present, there are 7 primary sources that can lead to SAF production.

  • Cellulosic – These are the residues from excess wood, agriculture, and forest residues.
  • Used Cooking Oil – Typically comes from plant or animal fat that has been used for cooking.
  • Camelina – This is an energy crop which has high lipid oil content. It is often grown as a fast-growing rotational crop with wheat and other cereal crops.
  • Jatropha – A plant that produces sees containing inedible lipid oil.
  • Halophytes – Salt marsh grasses
  • Algae – Microscopic plants that can be grown in polluted or salt water, deserts and other inhospitable places. Algae thrives off carbon dioxide.
  • Municipal Solid Waste – This is essentially trash from households & businesses. For example, product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, and bottles.

How is Sustainable Aviation Fuel Used?

Once Sustainable Aviation Fuel is produced it is a complete “drop-in” solution. This means that SAF can be used in place of regular Jet A and Jet A-1 fuel.

Moreover, so long as the SAF meets the ASTM International Standard D7566, it can be used with aircraft that are certified to use D1655 Jet A or Jet A-1 fuel.

According to the FAA Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) NE-11-56R2, the following applies:

  • These fuels are acceptable for use on those aircraft and engines that are approved to operate with Jet-A or Jet A-1 fuels that meet the D1655 standard.
  • Aircraft Flight Manuals, Pilot Operating Instructions, or TCDs that specify ASTM D1655 Jet-A or Jet A-1 fuel as an operating limitation do not require revision to use these fuels.
  • Current aircraft placards that specify Jet-A or Jet A-1 fuels do not require revision and are acceptable for use with these fuels.
  • Operating, maintenance, or other service documents for aircraft and engines that are approved to operate with ASTM D1655 Jet-A or Jet A-1 fuel do not require revision and are acceptable for use when operating with these fuels.
  • There are no additional or revised maintenance ac- tions, inspections or service requirements necessary when operating with these fuels.

Therefore, in terms of operation and refueling, SAF can be treated in the same way as conventional jet fuel.

There is no requirement to fly differently, plan differently, or request additional certification.

Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that SAF blends exacerbate microbial growth in fuel tanks.

Jet fuel - sustainable aviation fuel

Who Makes SAF?

At present, there are a wealth of companies that currently produced Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

The following companies all produce SAF or will do in the near future:

  • Air BP
  • Shell
  • Total
  • Gevo
  • Neste
  • World Energy
  • Fulcrum
  • Red Rock Biofuels
  • SkyNRG
  • LanzaTech
  • Gothennburg
  • Go Sunshine
  • Volocys Altalto

Is SAF Actually Better for the Environment?

As previously mentioned, Sustainable Aviation Fuels do reduce carbon emissions compared with conventional jet fuels.

Therefore, it is possible to conclude that SAFs are better for the environment.

Given that the plants used for SAF absorb CO2 produced by the aviation industry, along with SAFs using renewable and recycled sources, it is better to power an aircraft with a SAF blend than conventional jet fuel.

However, a question that is harder to answer is whether Sustainable Aviation Fuels go far enough in reducing the environmental impact of aviation.

With few exceptions, SAFs still produce CO2 when burned. Moreover, private jets are thirsty. Private jets can burn anywhere from 80 gallons of fuel per hour to well over 500 gallons per hour.

Therefore, Sustainable Aviation Fuels are a stepping stone to making aviation cleaner. However, it is important that SAFs aren’t considered the solution to the problem. There is still a long way to go.

Crucially, given the drop-in nature of SAFs, they provide a way to quickly and easily have a positive impact today.

Why is SAF Not Always Used?

The reason that SAF hasn’t been widely adopted is due to availability and cost.

Even a minor premium in price will have a significant impact on the bottom line for operators. Given the volume of fuel that aircraft burn, small costs can really add up.

This is especially true given that fuel is one of the major costs of flying.

This then leads to the second reason that SAF is not always used, availability. Due to low demand, there are only a few select locations that have SAF on tap.

Due to the limited demand, there is little incentive to increase production. This, therefore, leads to a vicious cycle that results in higher costs and lower availability.

In order to increase the uptake of SAF, there needs to be a major commitment. In order to increase production, there needs to be long-term policy certainty to reduce investment risks. Moreover, there needs to be a greater focus on research, development, and commercialization of improved production technologies.

Essentially, in order to increase the update of SAF, government policy needs to force the use of it.

Where Can SAF Be Found?

ICAO provides a great map that details all the locations around the globe that offer Sustainable Aviation Fuels. Moreover, it details whether the SAF is delivered continuously or in batches.

At present, there are 38 airports reported by the ICAO to have ongoing SAF deliveries. There are then an additional 15 airports that receive batch deliveries.

However, this doesn’t quite tell the full story. As you can see from the date first available, there has been significant growth since the start of the year.

Out of the 53 airports on the list, 25 have been added since the start of 2021. Therefore, just under 50% of all airports that supply SAF have started doing so in the last 9 months. This is positive news for the increase in Sustainable Aviation Fuel uptake.

Additionally, with the exception of Bristol Airport, all airports added this year have ongoing deliveries. This demonstrates the active commitment that the industry has towards reducing its emissions through SAF.

Around the globe, Sustainable Aviation Fuels can be found at the following airports.

Date First AvailableAirportDelivery Method
Oct 6, 2021Toronto-Pearson AirportOngoing deliveries
Sep 14, 2021Boeing Field/King County Intl AirportOngoing deliveries
Aug 23, 2021Le Bourget AirportOngoing deliveries
Aug 13, 2021Melbourne Orlando International AirportOngoing deliveries
Jul 14, 2021Farnborough AirportOngoing deliveries
Jul 12, 2021Zurich AirportOngoing deliveries
Jul 8, 2021Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County AirportOngoing deliveries
Jun 28, 2021Cologne AirportOngoing deliveries
Jun 24, 2021Oakland County International AirportOngoing deliveries
Jun 10, 2021Austin-Bergstrom Int’l AirportOngoing deliveries
Jun 10, 2021Houston-Hobby AirportOngoing deliveries
Jun 10, 2021Norman Y. Mineta San Jose Int’l AirportOngoing deliveries
May 6, 2021Munich AirportOngoing deliveries
Apr 26, 2021Clemont-Ferrand Airport, FranceOngoing deliveries
Apr 26, 2021Aspen AirportOngoing deliveries
Apr 16, 2021Telluride Regional AirportOngoing deliveries
Apr 15, 2021Truckee Tahoe AirportOngoing deliveries
Apr 6, 2021Biggin Hill Airport, LondonOngoing deliveries
Mar 23, 2021John Wayne Orange County AirportOngoing deliveries
Mar 23, 2021Van Nuys AirportOngoing deliveries
Mar 4, 2021Piedmont triad international airportOngoing deliveries
Mar 1, 2021Bristol AirportBatch Deliveries
Feb 26, 2021Oakland International AirportOngoing deliveries
Feb 26, 2021Monterey Regional AirportOngoing deliveries
Feb 12, 2021Camarillo AirportOngoing deliveries
Dec 8, 2020London Luton AirportOngoing deliveries
Oct 26, 2020Tokyo HanedaOngoing deliveries
Oct 26, 2020Tokyo NaritaOngoing deliveries
Feb 3, 2020Fort Lauderdale Executive AirportBatch Deliveries
Sep 7, 2019Bob Hope Burbank airportOngoing deliveries
Aug 23, 2019Jackson Hole AirportBatch Deliveries
Jun 1, 2019Umeå AirportBatch Deliveries
Jun 1, 2019Malmö AirportBatch Deliveries
May 2, 2019New York’s Republic AirportBatch Deliveries
Jan 17, 2019Van Nuys AirportOngoing deliveries
Dec 19, 2018Luleå AirportBatch Deliveries
Dec 19, 2018Åre Östersund AirportBatch Deliveries
Dec 19, 2018Stockholm Bromma AirportOngoing deliveries
Dec 19, 2018Visby AirportBatch Deliveries
Dec 19, 2018Göteborg Landvetter AirportBatch Deliveries
Dec 6, 2018San Francisco AirportOngoing deliveries
Nov 12, 2018Kalmar Öland AirportOngoing deliveries
May 14, 2018Vaxjo Smaland AirportOngoing deliveries
Apr 19, 2018Toronto-Pearson AirportBatch Deliveries
Nov 8, 2017Chicago O’Hare AirportBatch Deliveries
Oct 3, 2017Brisbane AirportBatch Deliveries
Aug 21, 2017Bergen AirportOngoing deliveries
Jul 26, 2017Halmstad City AirportOngoing deliveries
Jan 5, 2017Stockholm Arlanda AirportOngoing deliveries
May 24, 2016Montreal Trudeau AirportBatch Deliveries
Mar 1, 2016Los Angeles AirportOngoing deliveries
Jan 22, 2016Oslo AirportOngoing deliveries
Jan 26, 2014Karlstad AirportBatch Deliveries
List of all airports that currently supply Sustainable Aviation Fuels

Apart from the United States, Sweden is the country that has the greatest SAF availability at airports. Refer to the table below to see the breakdown of SAF distribution across Sweden, along with the volumes that have been delivered. In total, over 1,800 tonnes of Sustainable Aviation Fuel have been delivered to airports all over Sweden.

DateAirportSAF Delivered (Tonnes)
Jan 12, 2019Kalmar Airport19.5
Jun 25, 2019Stockholm Bromma Airport29
Jul 28, 2019Stockholm Arlanda Airport10
Sep 28, 2019Halmstad Airport141
Jul, 19Kalmar Airport48
Jun, 19Umeå Airport15
Jun, 19Stockholm Arlanda Airport385
Jun, 19Åre Östersund Airport13
Jun, 19Malmö Airport16
Jun, 19Göteborg Landvetter Airport21
Jul, 19Stockholm Arlanda Airport346
Oct 1, 2019 – 31 Dec, 2019Halmstad Airport/Kalmar Airport101
Feb 02, 2019Åre Östersund Airport2.94
May 19, 2019Åre Östersund Airport16.34
May 20, 2019Åre Östersund Airport15.25
Jun 03, 2019Åre Östersund Airport1.83
Aug 19, 2019Åre Östersund Airport15.22
Nov 18, 2019Åre Östersund Airport7.72
Dec 03, 2019Stockholm Arlanda Airport116
Jan 31, 2020Stockholm Arlanda Airport16.74
Jan 23, 2020Stockholm Bromma Airport33.61
Feb 07, 2020Stockholm Bromma Airport33.52
Aug 15, 2020Stockholm Arlanda Airport32
Sep 22, 2020Stockholm Arlanda Airport130
Sep 22, 2020Stockholm Arlanda Airport80
Dec 01, 2020Sundsvall Timrå Airport15
Dec 10, 2020Ängelholm Airport15.5
Dec 11, 2020Kalmar Airport15
Mar 25, 2021Stockholm Arlanda Airport16
May 19, 2021Ängelholm Airport15
Apr 30, 2021Skellefteå Airport20
Mid 2021Stockholm Arlanda Airport15
Mid 2021Stockholm Arlanda Airport15
Nov, 2021Stockholm Arlanda Airport45
Quantity of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (in Tonnes) Delivered to Airports in Sweden

The Future of Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Sustainable Aviation Fuel has seen a significant rate of growth in the past seven years. Additionally, this growth is expected to continue exponentially.

As seen above, around 50% of all airports around the world supplying SAF have started to do so in the 9 months. Therefore, there is no reason to expect this to slow down.

In terms of SAF production figures, it is expected that 2025 production levels will be around 17 times greater than 2020 production levels.

In 2020 just over 59 million gallons of SAF were produced.

Based on the intentions of the key SAF players, in 2021 it is expected that there will be over 72 million gallons of SAF produced.

2022 should see over 736 million gallons of SAF. 2023 is expected to yield over 820 million gallons, with just over 990 million gallons of SAF being produced in 2024. And finally, in 2025 it is expected that over 1.01 billion gallons of Sustainable Aviation Fuel will be produced.

Additionally, one of the companies that are leading the way with the uptake of Sustainable Aviation Fuels is Gulfstream. Since March of 2016, Gulfstream has used more than 1.2 million gallons of Sustainable Aviation Fuels in place of conventional jet fuels.

Is Sustainable Aviation Fuel Just Greenwashing?

In order to fairly assess whether or not SAFs are being used to greenwash, it is important to first introduce a definition of what greenwashing is.

The definition that shall be used is that of the Cambridge dictionary who defines greenwashing as “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”.

As you would expect, this is a contentious topic with two clear extremes. Firstly, there are the companies that produce SAF. These companies, for example, BP, talk about the way in which Sustainable Aviation Fuels help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, there are those that believe that SAF is purely being used to con the public into believing that aviation is completely green.

Jet A1 fuel storage tank

One of the ways that Sustainable Aviation Fuels are believed to be greenwashing is due to the sources of the fuel. For example, one of the primary criticisms is that some of the crops that are being used are edible. Some sources are claimed to use sugarcane or palm oil.

Additionally, critics say that it is impossible to produce enough Sustainable Aviation Fuel to power the entire global aviation network.

Furthermore, some also say that the name is itself highly misleading. During the latest protest at Farnborough airport after their adoption of SAF, it was said that Sustainable Aviation Fuel results in “land grabs, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, rising food prices, and land-use emissions”.

Ultimately, deciding whether aircraft flying using Sustainable Aviation Fuel is greenwashing or not will be down to your interpretation.

However, it is important to note that SAFs are not being treated as a “job done” approach.

The crucial benefit of SAF is that they can have a direct, positive impact today. Given their drop-in nature, virtually any aircraft that is currently flying could switch to a more sustainable alternative to conventional fuel.

Of course, when transforming an entire supply chain and infrastructure, it is impossible to have instant change. Take, for example, electric cars. Even if you were to produce electric cars for the population of the world, the infrastructure doesn’t exist for them to actually work. If you reverse the example by having the infrastructure to charge electric cars, it takes time to transition out the old vehicles and customers to adopt the new vehicles.

Changing fuel is no different. It is impossible to replace all conventional jet fuel with a SAF alternative overnight.

Additionally, Sustainable Aviation Fuels are better to use than conventional jet fuel. They do have a positive impact in reducing the emissions from the aviation industry.

Therefore, it is far better to think of these biofuels as a perfect stopgap. This is especially true given the rapid development of electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft. However, the time it takes to develop, certify and distribute means that action is required now.

Electric and hydrogen aircraft are the future. It is just a question of when. Given that it will likely be 10 to 15 years before we see electric aircraft, SAF is the best option for now.

Summary

Sustainable Aviation Fuel is the current, drop-in solution to help reduce aircraft emissions.

There is no pretending that it puts emissions to zero. It doesn’t.

However, the aviation industry is aware of the emissions caused by aircraft and action is being taken. Progress is rapidly speeding up and a more environmentally friendly future is just around the corner.

Just remember, everyone wants to burn less fuel. Not only does less fuel result in a better environment, but it also results in significantly lower costs.