New results from the first ever test using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on commercial aircraft have revealed a reduction in both soot particles and contrail ice crystals.

The ECLIF3 study saw Airbus, Rolls Royce, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and SAF producer Neste combined forces to measure the impact of 100% SAF use to emissions from both engines of an Airbus A350 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines.

Once in flight, the aircraft was followed by a DLR chase plane which is equipped to collect and measure its emissions.

Compared to a reference Jet A-1 fuel, the number of contrail ice crystals per mass of unblended SAF consumed was reduced by 56%, which could significantly reduce the climate-warming effect of contrails.

Global climate model simulations conducted by DLR were used to estimate the change in the energy balance in Earth’s atmosphere – also known as radiative forcing – by contrails.

The impact of contrails was estimated to be reduced by at least 26% with 100% SAF use compared to contrails resulting from the Jet A-1 reference fuel used in ECLIF3.

These results show that using SAF in flight could significantly reduce the climate impact of aviation in the short term by reducing non-CO2 effects such as contrails, in addition to reducing CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of SAF.

DLR divisional board member for aeronautics Markus Fischer said: “The results from the ECLIF3 flight experiments show how the use of 100 percent SAF can help us to significantly reduce the climate-warming effect of contrails, in addition to lowering the carbon footprint of flying – a clear sign of the effectiveness of SAF towards climate-compatible aviation.”

Airbus head of research and technology programme Mark Bentall added: “We already knew that sustainable aviation fuels could reduce the carbon footprint of aviation.

“Thanks to ECLIF studies, we now know that SAF can also reduce soot emissions and ice particulate formation that we see as contrails.

“This is a very encouraging result, based on science, which shows just how crucial sustainable aviation fuels are for decarbonising air transport.”

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