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Transportation - Aviation Industry

The aviation industry accounts for about 1 billion metric tons (around 3% of global CO2 emissions annually)—that is 3.15 tons of CO2 for every ton of petroleum-based jet fuel burned. Currently, one solution lies in Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is made from renewable sources with the potential to reduce emissions by as much as 80%. However, with obstacles to its widespread adoption, what can airliners do to enhance the use of SAF to reduce carbon emissions?


Although SAF is recognized as the most viable decarbonization approach for airplanes, its price is two to five times that of conventional jet fuel. Its widespread adoption is hampered by the fact that consumers (airliners and passengers alike) are unable or unwilling to shoulder this high cost. As such, SAF comprises less than 0.1% of all jet fuel used and is only available at a small number of airports globally. For it to scale, the cost must come down and demand must go up.


As is the case for every new product, an early large-scale adopter is required for revolutionary innovation to take hold. For SAF, United Airlines is doing just that. The US-based carrier recently secured a deal with Neste, a leading SAF producer, to buy up to 52.5 million gallons of this sustainable energy over the next three years. As a result, Neste will increase its production to 1.5 million tons annually by the end of 2023. Apart from airlines’ action, passengers can also play their part via “insetting,” selecting the percentage they would like to contribute to SAF used in the flight they are taking. At present, insetting represents a major way many air carriers finance for sustainable fuel. Alternatively, SAF can be purchased at dedicated purchase sites, where flyers can calculate their travel-related emissions and then select the percentage of emissions they would like to reduce with SAF. London Heathrow Airport is the leading example of airports that embrace this practice.

Even though there are challenges in adopting SAF, implementing this fuel is still crucial for the aviation sector to combat climate change. Lowering its cost and encouraging passengers to play more parts could scale up SAF production, lowering carbon emissions from flying in the foreseeable future.

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