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Accelerating Sustainable Aviation Fuel Use

By: Dr. Kelly L. Fleming, Senior Fellow – Wednesday, March 29, 2023

One of the ways this can be achieved is with sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, which are “drop-in” fuels made from low-carbon sources like biomass or clean hydrogen and captured carbon. These new fuels can be used in existing jet engines and have much lower carbon emissions than traditional, petroleum-based jet fuels. ITD aims to support the research and development of SAF and policies that will result in faster commercialization of SAF to support the transportation emissions reduction goals of the U.S. We are awarding a grant to help SAF researchers reach decision-makers in the federal government as they develop a strategy to reduce emissions from aviation (deadline to apply is April 21, 2023).

The United States recognizes the need to reduce emissions from aviation– the federal agencies and Congress have recently implemented incentives to jump-start the production and use of SAF. Notably, the Biden Administration set a high goal of producing 35 billion gallons of SAF in the US annually by 2050 and co-currently established the SAF Grand Challenge to help commercialize the production of SAF to that level. Congress also introduced tax credits for the use of SAF through the Inflation Reduction Act, and several airlines, including United, American, Alaska, Boeing, and others, have announced SAF use in their flights.

While there is growing support for SAF, there are barriers to commercialization that must be addressed to fully meet the scale of production required to achieve lofty policy goals. One of the biggest challenges is the high cost of production. SAF is currently more expensive to produce than traditional aviation fuels, which makes it difficult to scale up production enough to meet consumer demand.

The cost barrier is partly caused by the lack of infrastructure for the production and distribution of SAF. SAF is still in the early stages of commercialization, and domestic production was around  5 million gallons in 2021 but tripled to 15.8 million in 2022. Although it is encouraging that production is increasing, it is still far short of the goals of the SAF Grand Challenge. Research can help policymakers set incentives and regulations that will effectively accelerate the production of SAF, lower the carbon intensity, help producers commercialize their technology, and help airlines reach their sustainability goals.

Sustainable aviation fuels will play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions from the aviation industry. While there are still challenges to be addressed, governments around the world are recognizing the importance of promoting the production and use of cleaner alternatives to fossil-fuel-powered combustion jet engines.

ITD has opened a call for proposals in support of an analysis that helps to address the obstacles in the path of producing sustainable aviation fuel in large enough quantities for commercial airlines to support transportation decarbonization.

Please see our website for more information or to submit an application for the ITD Call for Research Proposals. Applications are due April 21, 2023.

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