The aviation industry has made remarkable progress over its short history. And yet even more radical change is now required if a sector that connects 1.5 billion people globally is to achieve its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050. At the heart of this transformation will be a substantial move towards more sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) is the commercial aviation’s industry body. ATAG’s updated Waypoint 2050 report suggests that the industry will need 330–445 million tons of sustainable fuels in order to hit emission targets. It will also require substantial technological and operational improvements. So where will it source these fuels from? And what costs will be involved?
The challenge of producing and deploying sustainable aviation fuels
Four of ICF’s experts in this area offer solutions to this challenge in a new ICF Report for ATAG Waypoint 2050.
Alastair Blanshard, senior manager and sustainable aviation, leads the sustainable aviation team at ICF, supporting companies and governments across the global industry to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.
Mike McCurdy, managing director, energy advisory services, is an energy expert with more than 24 years of experience guiding lenders, developers, and select government clients in the financing, sale, and purchase of energy assets.
Angus Reid-Kay is a senior consultant with an extensive range of experience supporting airlines, airports, and investors. And Saloni Chokhani is a senior aviation consultant with over five years of global experience working in the United States, United Kingdom, and India.
ICF’s research and report is a complement to the second edition of ATAG’s Waypoint 2050 report, which explores how the sector may be able to meet net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Both editions of the ATAG’s Waypoint 2050 report are available here.
A roadmap to a more sustainable future
In the report, Alastair, Mike, Angus, and Saloni examine the required roadmap to deploy sufficient sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
They review the various feedstock options, and consider the necessary technologies to create the quantities of fuel required. They examine how much feedstock is currently available and how much of that feedstock is sustainable. The report also looks at the financial implications, outlining the potential investment that will be needed as well as the likely costs for airlines in the future.
The ICF team makes several key findings in their research that can be found within the full report. Here are some of the important finding from the report:
- 41%-55%: The proportion of SAFs that Aviation will be able to access through currently available bioenergy.
- 6%-8% of the required capacity of SAFs will come from HEFA pathway production—that currently makes up almost all SAF fuel production today.
- $760-$900: The average cost of SAF per ton by 2050.
- 5,000-7,000: The number of renewable fuel refineries the aviation industry will require by 2050.
- 1,080-1,450 billion US dollars: The cost to build this infrastructure.
- 13.7 million: The number of jobs this investment in bioenergy will create or sustain.
What does the sustainable aviation fuels report reveal?
Alastair, Mike, Angus, and Saloni explain that although around 30-110 exajoules (EJ) of sustainable bioenergy is currently available per year, there will be considerable competition for its use. They estimate aviation will access sufficient bioenergy for at least 180 million tons of SAF production per year.
They also suggest the cost of producing SAF using renewable energy through the Power-to-Liquids approach will reduce, thanks to advances in technology. Production will largely be via the Alcohol-to-Jet (AtJ) and Fischer-Tropsch (FT) pathways, unlike most production today which uses the HEFA pathway.
In addition, they foresee a reduction in the price premium for SAF, again, thanks to technological developments. SAF use will also result in increased carbon reduction, further boosting the value of SAF in comparison to fossil fuels.
The report also explores the infrastructure required for SAF production, contrasting the current narrow geographic spread of oil and gas refineries with the SAF industry, which will be spread across almost every country. Finally, Alastair, Mike, Angus, and Saloni discuss the investment that is required to create this infrastructure and the vast potential for job creation that SAF production represents.
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