Amazon starts sourcing bio-jet fuel in drive to slash air cargo emissions

Amazon Air currently operates more than 50 aircraft. Image: Amazon

Under the deal, Shell Aviation will supply the fuel to Amazon Air’s US-based fleet over the next six months. Produced by North American biodiesel firm World Energy, the fuel includes a blend of used plant oil, virgin plant oil and waste fats from the agricultural sector.

Amazon Air signed the deal after trialling the SAF on two flights earlier this year; one from Washington to Arizona, the other from Washington to Connecticut.

It claims that a flight operated using a blend of the SAF produces 20% less CO2e than one powered by traditional jet fuel.  

Amazon Air’s vice president Sarah Rhoads said that scaling up SAF procurement is a “natural next step” in the firm’s bid to align with a net-zero by 2040 trajectory. It has notably already worked to consolidate shipments and to electrify ground vehicles at airports.

“We encourage other companies to join us in the effort to engage with suppliers to create more fuel alternatives… [this] calls for continued action,” Rhoads said.

When Amazon first unveiled its long-term climate goals, dubbed its ‘Climate Pledge’, senior vice president Dave Clark noted that aviation would prove more challenging to decarbonise than road transport. Amazon is aiming to have half of its global shipments certified as carbon neutral by 2030.

Fuel for thought

Aviation is widely considered hard-to-abate. Despite accounting for just 3% of annual global emissions, the sector has grown rapidly in recent years – in terms of both passenger numbers and emissions figures. Moreover, potential solutions like commercial-scale electric aircraft or hydrogen-powered planes are still in the earlier stages of innovation.

As such, SAF is being widely explored as a potential solution. The UK Sustainable Aviation Coalition recently published a roadmap for the net-zero transition centring heavily on SAF development, for example.

Many airlines, fuel firms and thought leaders see SAF as part of the aviation industry’s decarbonisation puzzle. But the roadmap drew criticism, as it concluded that the use of SAF could help the UK’s aviation sector can grow by 70% over the next three decades without breaching climate targets – which the Committee on Climate Change has rubbished. It also downplayed the potential of electric aircraft. 

Number crunching

The announcement from Amazon Air comes amid reports that the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) is planning to include emissions from international flights in its carbon accounting.

Emissions from international aviation and shipping have been excluded from all carbon accounting since the original Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. This stance has long been criticised by green groups, with calls for revamped accounting only ramping up in the wake of the IPCC’s landmark report on climate change and as nations have set net-zero targets.

Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has formally urged the DfT to change its aviation carbon accounting twice since last May – once in a letter sent to Transport Secretary Grant Schapps and, more recently, in the latest progress report to Parliament.

At the DfT’s initial meeting on its decarbonisation plan for “every single mode of transport”, attendees said they would back calls for a change in policy – but only once the International Maritime Organisation confirms legally binding, international emissions targets in its new strategy. The strategy is currently due for a 2023 publication date.

Sarah George

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