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Sustainable aviation fuel continues to take off

United is to triple its use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in 2023, while Neste expands its SAF production capabilities, and Masdar and Airbus unveil a new synthetic SAF collaboration.
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US airline operator United has unveiled plans to triple its use of SAF in 2023. It recently began using a blend of SAF on departing flights from San Francisco International Airport and is planning to use a SAF blend later this year at London Heathrow Airport, which could put the airline on track to use approximately 10mn gallons in 2023, nearly three times more than 2022 and close to 10 times more than 2019.


United has invested in the future production of over 5bn gallons of SAF, reportedly more than any other airline operator. It has used SAF blends at Los Angeles International Airport since 2016 and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam since 2022; it will continue to use SAF at those airports in 2023.


The SAF used on United’s flights will be paid for in part through the company’s Eco-Skies Alliance, an initiative designed for participating companies to work together to share the ‘green premium’ or the cost associated with purchasing lower emission fuels. Since its launch in April 2021, the programme is reported to have collectively contributed toward the purchase of nearly 15mn gallons of SAF. ‘With its up to 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions on a lifecycle basis compared to conventional jet fuel, this is enough SAF to reduce approximately 150,000 tonnes of GHG emissions, or enough to fly passengers close to 1bn miles,’ claims United.


The SAF that United currently uses at San Francisco and Amsterdam airports is provided by Neste, produced from sustainably sourced, 100% renewable waste and residue raw materials, including used cooking oil and animal fat waste.


In the future, SAF could be made from other feedstocks, including household trash, forest waste, algae or compressed CO2.


Recognising the role that SAF can play in decarbonising the transport sector, the US government’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act includes a new blender’s tax credit specifically for SAF along with other critical incentives for clean energy and carbon capture. ‘This will help spur an increase in SAF infrastructure and supply while lowering costs for SAF consumers,’ notes United.


Meanwhile, Neste has celebrated the opening of expanded production capacity at its refinery in Singapore and the development of a SAF supply chain to Changi Airport.


The Singapore refinery expansion doubles Neste’s production capacity in Singapore, bringing its total capacity to 2.6mn t/y, of which 1mn tonnes can be SAF. In addition to increased production capacity, the enhanced raw material pre-treatment capacity onsite has increased the Singapore refinery’s capability to process ‘more challenging waste and residue raw materials’, reports Neste.


In other news, Masdar and Airbus have signed an agreement that will see direct air capture (DAC) technologies, in combination with green hydrogen, used to produce synthetic SAF. Claiming that such fuel could reduce GHG emissions by up to 95% compared to conventional jet fuel, they say the global SAF market is expected to grow to over $14bn by 2032.

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