The aviation industry is facing a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) “supply crunch” as demand continues to rise, driven by government mandates, said Jonathon Counsell, group head of sustainability at IAG.

Speaking at the Aviation Carbon 2023 event near Heathrow, Counsell said he fully supported mandates as a mechanism to increase take-up of the sustainable fuel, but warned that more needed to be done to increase supply.

“There is nowhere near enough SAF,” he said. “We will see a supply crunch with SAF, particularly as we start to see mandates.

“Every country has to look at what feedstocks and technology they have available. The US is in the lead, with 90% of all investments in SAF plants taking place in the US. That’s great because we are all going to benefit from that.

“But mandates on their own won’t be enough, we need incentives as we are competing for global capital.”

Central to that incentivisation should be a revenue certainty mechanism, he said, which will provide greater certainty to investors, in turn driving investment in SAF production in the UK and around the world.

The UK government has committed to introduce a revenue certainty mechanism to support SAF production in the UK, which could be delivered by the end of 2026.

SAF uses waste material feedstocks such as used cooking oil, municipal waste or waste wood, and reduces carbon emissions on a greenhouse gas lifecycle basis by 70% or more compared with the fossil jet fuels it replaces.

SAF targets

IAG is targeting 10% SAF by 2030 and net zero by 2050 in line with an industry-wide goal. The company has 250,000 tonnes of SAF secured for 2030, which is 25% of its target volume.

Last year, British Airways, LanzaJet and Nova Pangaea Technologies (pictured) signed an agreement that will accelerate their Project Speedbird initiative to develop SAF for commercial use in the UK.

As part of the agreement, IAG is investing in the project to support the next phase of development work that will help decarbonise the aviation industry.

The fuel will be developed using a combination of technologies based on Nova Pangaea’s Refnova process of converting agricultural and wood waste into bioethanol and biochar.

LanzaJet’s alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) technology, the first of its kind in the world, then converts the bioethanol to produce SAF and renewable diesel.

Counsell said British Airways, the largest airline within the IAG group, already had aircraft taking off from Heathrow using sustainable aviation fuel.

While SAF volumes were still “relatively low”, he said use of the fuel was “beginning to turn”.

“We’re moving from commitment in the last decade to this decade starting to focus on delivery.”
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