The carbon dioxide emissions must decrease. By 2050, the net emissions of greenhouse gases shall be zero according to the EU’s Green Deal. Similar targets have been presented by many governments and leaders around the globe. Aviation is often pointed out as “the bad guys”. Here in Sweden, we talk about “flight shame” meaning shame on the ones who fly instead of taking the train. But the aviation industry is working on it. Will they eventually be the ones that solve the problem?

Sustainable-aviation-fuel

An airplane behind its future fuel?
Photo: Per Jonsson

Sustainable aviation fuel

On the 6th of September 2022, Alder Fuels, a clean tech developer and green crude producer, presented the news that they will team up with Enviva, a US producer of woody biomass, to commercialize the supply of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

Enviva will supply up to 750.000 metric tons of woody biomass (forest residue) to Alder’s first Green Crude (AGC) production plant, soon to be under construction. The supply is planned to commence in 2024. AGC can be refined using existing infrastructure into low-carbo to carbon-negative SAF that matches petroleum-based equivalents on specification and performance.

Aggressive climate goals

In March 2021, major US airlines committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To meet this scaling up of SAF, the White House launched the SAF Grand Challenge to have 3 billion gallons (11 billion liters) of SAF produced in the US by 2030 and 35 billion gallons (132 billion liters) by 2050. In Europe, similar initiatives have been taken such as ReFuelEU.

Reflections

Alder Fuels’ President and CEO, Bryan Sherbacow told Reuters that approx. 37 million gallons (140 million liters) of SAF per year could be made from the biomass in the deal. It makes it the largest such agreement in the US. That is a little more than 1 permille of the total demand in the US.

It feels like quite an uphill run to achieve the ambitious goal. But still, the aviation business must do something, and electricity seems to be no option for them – or is it?

In any case, the idea of using forest by-products or forest residue is interesting to us in the forestry business. Considering the above-mentioned demand, only the US, shows great potential for biomass from the forest. The question is if the forestry business can deliver enough to cover the demand.

If I understand it right, SAF, Sustainable Aviation Fuel, could be used for normal aircraft engines. That means that the step to becoming carbon neutral – more environmentally friendly – is quite small. Well, if you can get your hands on enough SAF of course. This should make it the most realistic way forward for the moment.

On the other hand, 2050 is 28 years away. By then someone may have invented “super-efficient” batteries or something completely different that is much better. No one probably knows. We, normal people, will just have to wait and see as the thinkers think.

Maybe the aviation industry will solve the whole environmental issue for us? I mean, they have ideas and are testing them. And so are many others …

More information

The aviation business and aviation fuels are not my areas of interest or knowledge. But I do find it interesting to see and learn what the materials from the most fantastic source, the forest, can be used for.

For those who want to dig more into this, here are the links to the sources I have used for this article (the links are the same as in the text above):

The EU Green Deal

The Alder Fuel’s press release about the deal with Enviva

Alder Fuel’s homepage

Envivas homepage

Airlines-org’s news update on the net-zero emission commitment

The White House statement about the SAF Grand Challenge

IATA fact sheet about the EU and US SAF policies

Article by Reuters

Technologyreview.com about electric planes

Of course, there is much more information to find on this. Keep digging.