How Is Sustainable Aviation Fuel Made? Here’s What You Need To Know

Sustainable aviation fuel is a valuable solution to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint. With the aviation sector’s urgent push towards environmental sustainability, the demand for SAF surges as it offers a cleaner substitute for conventional jet fuel.

This article delves into how sustainable aviation fuel is made, from the production processes through HEFA and FT-SPK. We will also discuss the benefits of SAF in commercial aviation and emphasise its role in steering the industry towards a greener horizon.

What Is Sustainable Aviation Fuel?

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a green alternative to conventional jet fuel. Unlike traditional fossil fuels, SAF comes from renewable sources like waste oils, fats, green and municipal waste and non-food crops.

This makes SAF almost the same as the usual jet fuel used in aircraft engines, but with a big difference: it can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80%. This reduction helps the aviation industry lower carbon footprint and rely less on oil-based fuels.

The switch to SAF is a key move for airlines wanting to be more eco-friendly because it uses materials that would otherwise go to waste. This turns them into a valuable energy source for flying without adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Technological Processes In SAF Production

Producing SAF has led to the development of innovative technologies to reduce carbon emissions and the aviation industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Two prominent processes in SAF production are HEFA (Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids) and FT-SPK (Fischer–Tropsch Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene), each with its unique method and feedstocks.

Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA)

The HEFA process is a key pathway for producing bio-jet fuel, utilising fats, oils and greases (FOGs) as raw materials. These feedstocks, collected from various sources, are purified before being refined.

The purified liquids are then subjected to a chemical reaction involving hydrogen and catalysts, followed by distillation.

This process efficiently converts waste products into SAF, significantly lowering the environmental impact associated with traditional jet fuel production.

The wide adoption of HEFA technology in SAF production is attributed to its efficiency in turning waste into valuable fuel while simultaneously addressing carbon dioxide emissions and supporting the shift towards carbon-neutral aviation.

Fischer–Tropsch Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (FT-SPK)

FT-SPK technology converts solid biomass, such as wood chips, agricultural residues or municipal waste, into liquid fuels.

The process involves the high-temperature gasification of biomass to create synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

This gas is then converted into long-chain hydrocarbon molecules through the Fischer-Tropsch process, producing synthetic kerosene.

FT-SPK stands out for its ability to utilise a wide range of biomass sources, making it a versatile and scalable option for SAF production.

It’s also recognised for its lower emission fuel and low carbon footprint than traditional jet fuel, contributing to a more carbon-neutral aviation sector.

4 Benefits Of Sustainable Aviation Fuel In Commercial Aviation

The transition to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) presents transformative benefits for commercial aviation, signalling a shift towards a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future.

Here, we explore the advantages of integrating SAF into commercial flight operations.

1. Can Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Sustainable aviation fuel is at the forefront of reducing the aviation industry’s carbon footprint.

By utilising SAF, which can be produced from waste oil and fats, green and municipal waste and non-food crops, carbon dioxide emissions can be significantly lowered.

This reduction is possible because SAF recycles CO2 absorbed by biomass during its lifecycle, leading to an 80% reduction in emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.

2. SAF Feedstocks Do Not Compete With Food Crops Or Output

One of the key sustainability aspects of SAF is its reliance on feedstocks that do not compete with food crops or output.

This consideration ensures that the production of SAF does not exacerbate food scarcity or contribute to environmental degradation such as deforestation, soil productivity loss or biodiversity loss.

Instead, SAF utilises resources like used cooking oil, forestry residues and non-food crop biomass, minimising its environmental impact.

This approach not only aids in reducing global carbon emissions by recycling CO2 but also promotes a circular economy where waste products are transformed into valuable fuel for the aviation industry.

The adoption of SAF underscores the aviation sector’s commitment to reducing its environmental impact through innovative fuel solutions.

SAF offers a viable, low-carbon alternative to traditional fossil fuels, positioning the industry on a sustainable trajectory towards reduced emissions and environmental stewardship.

3. Can Be An Alternative To Traditional Aviation Energy Sources

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is emerging as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels in the aviation sector. This low-carbon alternative is derived from renewable raw materials that do not deplete natural resources or compete with food production land and water use.

SAF’s ability to be continually and repeatedly sourced from materials such as used cooking oil and other biofuels supports the diversification and resilience of aviation energy sources.

It is also processed to meet the same technical requirements as conventional jet fuel. This allows it to be blended with traditional fuels and used in commercial aircraft without requiring changes to existing technology and fuel systems.

This ensures that safety, a paramount concern in aviation, remains uncompromised, showcasing SAF’s potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions while maintaining high safety and performance standards.

4. SAF Has A Similar Properties To Conventional Jet Fuel

Today’s SAF has similar properties to conventional jet fuel, Jet A-1, in its properties, ensuring it can integrate smoothly with current aviation systems.

Rigorous testing compares specific fuel consumption at various power settings, from ground idle to take-off speed, against conventional jet fuel.

These tests assess critical aspects such as engine start time, fuel ignition stability and performance during acceleration and deceleration. SAF also undergoes thorough examination to ensure it does not adversely affect the materials used in aircraft and components.

This compatibility allows SAF to be a blended fuel mixed with conventional fuels without necessitating modifications to aircraft engines or infrastructure.

The adoption of SAF by many airlines demonstrates its viability as a synthetic fuel option that can help the aviation industry move towards more sustainable practices and reduce emissions without compromising performance or safety.

Disadvantages Of Sustainable Aviation Fuel

With so many benefits, and an international directive to develop sustainable fuels, are there any possible disadvantages to using SAF?

Currently, SAF incurs higher production costs compared to conventional jet fuel, which may limit its widespread adoption without significant investment or subsidies.

The current limited production capacity and availability of SAF at airports around the world also restrict its immediate potential to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint on a large scale. This would mean that airlines would spend too much in fuel fees that they either have to drastically increase prices or have negative earnings.

Conclusion On How Is Sustainable Aviation Fuel Made

In this comprehensive exploration of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), we’ve uncovered the processes and importance of SAF in steering the aviation industry towards a greener future.

Through the detailed examination of production technologies such as HEFA and FT-SPK, we’ve seen how SAF offers a viable alternative to traditional fossil fuels, reducing carbon emissions significantly while ensuring compatibility with existing aircraft and infrastructure.

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Frequently Asked Questions On How Is Sustainable Aviation Fuel Made

Can Sustainable Aviation Fuel Be Made From Solid Waste?

Yes, SAF can be produced from solid waste. This process involves gasifying the solid waste to produce synthesis gas, which is then converted into long-chain hydrocarbons suitable for aviation fuel.

Solid waste as a feedstock also helps recycle carbon dioxide and reduces reliance on fossil fuels, contributing to the circular economy.

Is SAF More Expensive Than Jet Fuel?

Currently, SAF is more expensive than conventional jet fuel. The higher cost is attributed to several factors, including the relatively limited supply, the cost of developing and implementing new technologies for SAF production and the expenses associated with collecting and processing sustainable feedstocks.

However, as the technology matures and production scales up, the cost of SAF is expected to decrease. Policy support and incentives can also play a significant role in making SAF more competitively priced.

What Certifications Are Required For SAF To Be Used In Commercial Flights?

For SAF to be used in commercial flights, it must meet stringent certification standards to ensure safety and effectiveness. The ASTM International provides these certifications, specifically ASTM D7566, which incorporates SAF into the broader aviation fuel specification ASTM D1655.

This certification ensures that SAF blends are compatible with existing aircraft engines and fuel distribution infrastructure. Compliance with these standards guarantees that SAF has the same performance and safety characteristics as conventional jet fuel, enabling its use without aircraft or fuel system modifications.

How Do SAF Emissions Compare With Those Of Electric Or Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft?

SAF emissions are significantly lower than those of conventional jet fuel, however, when comparing SAF to electric or hydrogen-powered aircraft, the latter options could offer even lower emissions, potentially nearing zero. This is especially true if electricity or hydrogen is produced from renewable energy sources.

Electric and hydrogen propulsion technologies are in earlier stages of development and deployment for commercial aviation than SAF.

Each alternative faces challenges like energy density, infrastructure and technology maturity. SAF currently provides a more immediately viable pathway to reducing emissions within the existing aviation infrastructure.

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