Delta Air Lines: Coalition hub to scale sustainable aviation fuel

Delta Air Lines, in collaboration with Bank of America, Ecolab, and Xcel Energy, has launched the Minnesota SAF Hub, in a bid to significantly increase the production of SAFs to substitute conventional jet fuel and contribute to the decarbonisation of the aviation sector.

Delta Air Lines: Coalition hub to scale sustainable aviation fuel

Image: Delta

At a glance
Who: Delta Air Lines
What:  Minnesota SAF Hub 
Where: Minnesota, USA
Why: To scale sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) 
When: August 2023  

The challenge 

The aviation industry accounts for roughly 2-3% of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite worldwide airline commitments to acquire billions of gallons of SAFs in the forthcoming decades to replace conventional jet fuels and mitigate their emissions, the existing production capacity falls short of meeting the daily needs of global commercial airline operations. 

The solution  

SAFs, derived from diverse sources such as renewable feedstocks and recycled cooking oil, have the potential to reduce aviation’s lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 80%. Delta Air Lines, in collaboration with the coalition at the Minnesota SAF Hub, is implementing a phased strategy for expanding SAFs production by facilitating the distribution of SAF within the region and developing a resilient and adaptable SAF production framework. 

How the project works  

In the initial phase, the coalition’s primary focus is swift scalability. By tapping into existing feedstocks and facilities, the coalition plans to introduce commercial-scale volumes of cost-effective, low-carbon SAF to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport from external sources by as early as 2025.  

Crucially, the coalition aims to actively engage with existing and prospective SAF producers, fostering increased SAF production within Minnesota to meet its emission reduction objectives. As part of the expansion strategy, the coalition is open to welcoming additional partners, including SAF producers, investors, corporate collaborators, and stakeholders along the value chain. 

In subsequent stages, the focus shifts towards innovation in agriculture as a means of accelerating greenhouse gas reductions. The coalition will initiate SAF production within Minnesota, capitalising on both new and existing infrastructure, with a special emphasis on converting Minnesota ethanol into jet fuel. Furthermore, the coalition commits to incorporating regenerative agricultural practices and crops, effectively reducing the carbon intensity of SAF. 

Looking ahead, the coalition aims to maximise scale and emission reductions through advanced technologies, including the exploration of pathways such as power-to-liquid, which generates SAF from clean hydrogen and carbon.  

The results  

Through the collaborative endeavours of the coalition and its corporate partners, Delta envisions incorporating SAF for more than 10% of its fuel needs at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport by 2027, with the ultimate goal of reaching a 50% SAF utilisation rate by 2035. 

Business benefits

The coalition strategy is designed to not only expand the production of low-carbon SAF but also to uphold environmental and water preservation across every stage of the SAF value chain, which will further contribute to Delta’s goal to achieve net-zero by 2050.  

The strategy also involves fostering partnerships with universities and the private sector to collaboratively address scientific and technical challenges tied to the practical and commercially viable generation of ultra-low carbon SAF derived from regenerative agricultural sources. 

Investment/ savings

Studies indicate that at present, the cost of SAFs is on par with or slightly higher than that of conventional jet fuels. However, through the coalition’s collaborative efforts, Delta anticipates the production of cost-effective SAF on a commercial scale.  

Industry context

The aviation sector is taking steps to lower its greenhouse gas emissions as part of its commitment to decarbonise the industry.  

According to a Research and Markets analysis, the sustainable aviation fuel market is projected to grow from $219m in 2021 to $15,716m by 2030. The analysis attributes the growth to factors such as the increasing need for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation industry, increasing air passenger traffic and the high fuel efficiency of SAFs.  

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