COP 27: ICAO Marks Sustainable Aviation Fuels as the Future of Net-Zero Aviation

COP 27: ICAO Marks Sustainable Aviation Fuels as the Future of Net-Zero Aviation

At the side event at COP 27 last November, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) professed its Long Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) for reducing the aviation sector’s contribution to climate change, reported Lexology.

“Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require substantial and sustained investment and financing over the coming decades. We must furthermore assure reliable and affordable support and capacity-building for the many developing countries and States with particular needs, who will be depending on it to help play their part,” said ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano. “An important part of my message to you here today is that the work to begin addressing these objectives for our sector has already started.” 

LTAG for International Aviation 

LTAG is a succession of the pledges advocated at the inaugural meeting of the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition launched at COP 26, which emphasises cooperative international actions to significantly decouple GHG emissions from flights. 

LTAG aims to comply with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming well below 1.5°C.

Part of this effort is to help the aviation sector hit the Net-Zero target by 2050 and foster mass adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), aligning with CORSIA—ICAO’s carbon offsetting and reduction scheme.

“ICAO is fully cognizant of its global responsibilities toward the sustainable future of the international aviation sector, and of the planet. We also remain deeply cognizant of the critical importance of international air connectivity to the civil societies and economies of Small Island Developing States, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Least Developed Countries,” remarked the Council President.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Extracted from sustainable feedstocks and waste products, SAF is a biofuel used to power aircraft.

It can be in blended or unblended form. SAF holds the potential to provide identical or sometimes better performance than conventional fossil-based aviation fuel but with a fraction of its carbon footprint, helping decarbonise the aviation industry.

Even though aviation is considered the bedrock of the world economy, it accounts for almost 3% of the total volume of carbon dioxide annually infiltrating the Earth’s atmosphere. 

That said, cutting carbon emissions from aviation has now become dire.

Although hydrogen- and electric-powered aircraft hold great potential to cut GHG emissions, they are still a long way off from being commercially viable. 

A bridge between hydrogen- or electric-powered aeroplanes and today’s petroleum-based aircraft, SAF’s lower carbon intensity makes it a realistic solution for decreasing aviation GHG.

SAF can cut GHS emissions by up to 80% over the fuel lifecycle and can be used to power the aircraft engine as a direct replacement (drop-in) for fossil-based aviation fuel.

Since 20211, SAF has been used to take more than 450,000 flights to the skies.

Early this month, Airbus powered both engines of its single-aisle aircraft—A321neo—with 100% SAF.

Currently, up to 50% SAF can be blended with petroleum-based jet fuel in commercial flights. 

SAF Production: The Global Outlook

Despite being able to decarbonise aviation significantly, global SAF production is still minuscule. Roughly 26.4 million gallons of SAF are being produced annually, constituting only 0.1% of all jet fuel.

Soaring costs due to limited supply hinders the rapid uptake of SAFs in the aviation industry.

However, these low production numbers are prompting the world’s policymakers to develop plans for scaling up new production methods and facilitating the commercialisation of SAF.

The global SAF market is poised to rise to $6.26 billion by 2030—up from $72.1 million in 2020. 

Again, with the increasing bio-content in jet fuels aggravating microbial contamination, checking its impacts has become dire.

That said, investing in high-end aviation fuel testing kits such as FUELSTAT® is a sensible business decision when it comes to periodic testing of SAF fuels. As a result, microbial growth can be tracked down at the earliest phases and before critical safety or operational disruptions incur heavy financial losses.

Industry Leaders Looking to Facilitate SAF Production

At COP 27, industry leaders underscored the need for a strong regulatory framework to enable the evolution to emissions-free flight while ensuring the safe deployment of SAF into the fuel supply system.

“As aviation continues to explore and adopt the incredible new technological innovations arising today in aeronautics and renewable energy propulsion, ICAO also recognizes how imperative it is to start putting in place the right policies, legal frameworks, and modernised infrastructure to enable this evolution to emissions-free flight,” said ICAO President.

As part of its effort to offer a framework and bespoke assistance to States in different phases of SAF production and deployment, ICAO launched the ICAO Assistance, Capacity-building and Training for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (ACT-SAF) program in June 2022.

However, at COP 27, industry leaders unanimously agreed that boosting the production of commercially usable SAF and replacing conventional fuel with it would need substantial funding. 

Should that funding be raised and only 10% of conventional jet fuel get replaced by SAF, it will reduce 60 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually.