EASA: SAF production must increase dramatically to meet climate goals

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Oct. 3, 2022, © Leeham News: Aviation is “a key vulnerable economic sector that is only in the early stage of adaptation to climate change,” according to a new report from EASA, the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency.

To meet the industry’s environmental challenges – and there are several — more must be done to identify the hazards and risks that extreme weather events caused by climate change can bring to the industry, the report says.

The report also recommends that more needs to be done to plan for the impact of extreme weather on aircraft and airline infrastructure. The industry and regulators also need to “identify and apply ‘win-win’ solutions” to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions from airliners, and to accelerate the deployment of aircraft and air traffic control technology to improve the efficiency of Europe’s airline fleet.

The good news in the report is that researchers believe aviation could cut emissions by 69% by 2050 by adopting a suite of changes, including increased use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), improved aircraft technology, better operational practices and by using hydrogen or electric motors to power aircraft where feasible.

  • Production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel must increase dramatically.
  • Airline emissions are going up as a percentage of contribution to climate impact.
  • In another blow to Boom’s claim its SST will be environmentally friendly, EASA takes a different view about SSTs.

Europeans see climate change as world’s greatest threat

The EASA report is intended to be a fact sheet for policy makers to use as they consider ways to cut carbon emissions and noise pollution around airports.Its findings are similar to some of those reported early this year by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which we reported on recently.

Climate change is “considered by Europeans to be the single most serious problem facing the world,” the report says. It calls for “scaled-up collaboration between public and private stakeholders” to “enhance existing measures and identify new ones” to meet Europe’s climate goals.

The EASA report doesn’t site a specific public opinion survey to back that claim, but this Pew Research report backs it up, showing that climate change is the top concern among residents of Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and the No. 2 concern in France, Germany and Poland.

In the United States, it’s ranked as the No. 5 concern, behind foreign power cyber attacks, the spread of disinformation online, the global economy and the spread of infectious diseases.

Growth in airline flights offsets efficiency gains

It’s often been reported that aviation’s contribution to climate change is relatively small – between 2% and 4%, depending on the study.

However, the EASA report found that aviation’s climate impact was growing significantly before Covid-19 shut everything down in 2020-21.

The good news was that average carbon emissions per passenger kilometer went down in 2019, by an average of 2.3%. The bad news was that the number of flights has been increasing. Arrivals and departures at European airports increased by 15% between 2005 and 2019, while passenger kilometers jumped 90%.

As a result, the report says, “the growth in aviation (carbon dioxide) emissions was accelerating prior to Covid-19, with almost half of global CO2 emissions between 1940 and 2019 having occurred since 2000.”

Specifically, emissions of all flights departing from European airport climbed by 34% between 2004 and 2019, to an estimated 147 million metric tons (roughly 162 million standard tons).

SAF production must increase dramatically

The report expects that 37% of the carbon reduction emissions to be achieved by 2050 will come from the adoption of sustainable fuels. SAF will “play a key part in decarbonizing the aviation sector,” the report says. That’s because “they can be used within the existing global fleet and fuel supply infrastructure.”

The European Commission has proposed a SAF blending mandate for fuel sold at EU airports, with the goal of having 2% of aviation fuel being blended SAF in 2025, increasing to 63% by 2050.

But to do that will take a massive increase in the amount of SAF being produced. Right now, the report says, current supplies of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) account for less than 0.05% of total aviation fuel burn in the European Union. That means about 99.95% is old-school kerosene.

To meet even the initial 2% target, EU producers will have to increase SAF production to a level that’s more than 40 times greater than what they’re doing now. The report says Europe will need 2.3 million metric tons of SAF just to meet that initial 2% target in 2030.

There are other SAF problems too, the report notes.

Currently, global safety standards say that a 50-50 blend of SAF and Jet A is the maximum that can be used in any flights. To get above that will require changes by industry regulators, the report says, noting that committees are looking into it.

In addition, SAF are “currently more expensive than fossil-based jet fuel,” the report notes. (Anywhere from two to four times more expensive, according to other sources.)

Prices are expected to come down as more SAF is produced, creating economies of scale, the report says.

In another blow to Boom Aerospace’s claim that its Overture SST will be environmentally friendly, EASA reports that “the high speed of supersonic aircraft is likely to result in an ICAO CO2 standard metric value that is 2 to 3 times higher than comparable subsonic aircraft, and a better understanding is required on the climate change impact from SST non-CO2 emissions at high altitudes.”

Airport noise also a European environmental issue

The EU has adopted airport noise reduction goals. By 2030, they aim to cut the share of people “chronically disturbed” by airport noise by 30%.

New aircraft – the report specifically cites the Airbus A320 Neo and A350, along with Boeing’s 737 MAX and 787 – are quieter than the airplanes they’re replacing. These planes are meeting the new noise standards, according to the report.

Report encourages airlines to make operational changes to save fuel

The report discourages the practice of “fuel tankering,” in which an airline fills up a planes tanks for the outbound leg of a flight, in order to reduce the amount of fuel it has to buy for the return flight.

In 2018, this happened on some 21% of flights, the report says. That saved airlines about €265 million that year, but it resulted those aircraft burning an additional 286,000 metric tons of fuel, hauling the extra weight around. That was more than 0.5% of European jet fuel consumption for the year.

Overall, airlines operating in the EU are not meeting their targets for “greener operations,” the report says. 

13 Comments on “EASA: SAF production must increase dramatically to meet climate goals

  1. The White Elephant in the room for SAF in aviation (amongst other applications) is SAF feedstock.

    SAF made from for example, corn, grain, sugar beet, rapeseed, palm or soya oil works pretty good, on a small scale, ignoring macro consequences of trading food for (80% touristic) air travel.

    SAF made from residual materials such as food waste and frying fat using various processes is nice, but a bit symbolic, looking at required scale to make a dent into aviation fossil fuels.

    As an industry we see little other feasible alternatives to SAF, to quickly reduce environmental impact without shrinking. So we polite ignore the potential SAF feedstock show stoppers.

    And hope SF innovations will somehow safe us from making more painful choices.

    • Mention should be made of the electro fuel based SAF and of course the nuclear based SAF which can work through electricity or by direct use of nuclear heat.
      Even if electro fuel SAF is made by wind turbine those wind turbines can be floating in the ocean or of the north west coast of Australia.

        • -The feed stocks for electrofuels is CO2 and hydrogen passed into a fischer Tropsch reactor. The CO2 can be obtained from the atmosphere via DAC “Direct Air Capture”. This can thus be done anywhere in the world with a number of viable processes being available such as absorption on amines (a waxy solid on ceramic beads) and release via low grade heat in the 90C-110C range. Obviously waste nuclear heat is possible but so is the waste heat from the exothermic fischer-tropsch reaction or from heat pumps. There is also absorption onto hydroxides and subsequent electrodialysis.
          -Access to water, air and energy is what is needed.
          -Nuclear could produce all the SAF we need at affordable prices. Electricity would be used to create hydrogen via electrodialysis and the heat used to regenerate the amines. The use of thermochemical water spliting could bypass the electrolysis.

          • You should agree the SF factor and techno-utopianism is scary in these solutions, if we limit ourselves top the next 20-40 years.

  2. I may be missing something here, but …. we hear all kinds of interest in hydrogen as a “fuel,” meaning a store of energy. We have essentially zero feedstock of hydrogen. However, we are willing to generate tons (figuratively) of power from wind or solar, then use that power to generate hydrogen.

    Why doesn’t the same logic apply to waste biomass as a “fuel,” meaning use wind or solar to digest (cook) waste food and manure, for instance, which we have in great abundance? Bio digesters are dirty and need maintenance, but if post-apocalyptic Australia could do it in Mad Max, then maybe we just need to work harder.

  3. Oh look, a realistic question finally. Yes, there is no way to replace aviation fuel with food products economically. Also, it solves zero problems. If you believe in AGW you should be advocating a rapid total war against China/India to cut their current/forecast carbon emissions. Worrying about civil emissions with unrealistic/impossible solutions is…asinine.

    The same is true for precious metals to go into a fantastic amount of huge batteries for personal and civil travel needs (including aviation). A simple BEV car battery requires a half million pounds of earth to be (strip mined). A widebody airplane? LOL.

    That’s not ‘environmentally friendly’ by any stretch, nor is it PC, but it’s all true.

    • Texl1649, I hereby Upvote you.

      The Pie-In-The-Sky-Scheme-O-Rama seems endless:


  4. Most forests are poorly managed and often can give x 3 – x 10 in yearly growth compared to present, still legal hassle to get them properly managed with its cost and wait for optimal harvest time. Algae growth in salt water in desert ponds is easier as deserts and semi deserts increase in size and are of little other economic use today. Available acres are immense. Still challenges to get workers, equipment in place and logistic of harvesting to processing facilities. Maybe easiest in Australia, Arabia, Mexico and in Southern Africa.

  5. -I work in the mining industry. The typical figures I see for ore concentration would be 3-6 grams per ton for gold and about 6kg per ton for copper. We have to concentrate this before it can be shipped to a smelter. Iron Ore is way above this with concentration as high as 40%-60% and can often be smelted directly in the case of hematite (magnetite needs some concentration) hence its cheapness.
    -About 6% of the worlds energy goes into crushing and grinding things into powders or aggregates. It’s more than aviation.
    -To concentrate an ore we need to grind it into a powder, convert it into a slurry. At that point flocculants may be used to remove undesirable materials, reagents to coat the mineral in question so it can be frothed to the top and skimmed. A few other tricks are involved such as gravimetric (centrifuges) and electrowinning from leaches.
    -Obviously you need diesel and explosives to shift dirt as well even before grinding. It’s an equation of pure energy. If you are mining in Saudi Arabia you pay very little for diesel but a lot for water.
    -As far as the rare earths for batteries are concerned: They must be 100% recycled and any battery that is not 100% recycled will be useless in the scheme of things because they are not concentrated enough in the earth.

    • Almost zero batteries are actually recycled. Separating all of the metals, especially in a wet electrolyte (all commercial batteries to date), makes it also economically useless. Yes, all of this tech is net harmful/useless if the goal is to be ‘environmentally clean’ at the end of the day, and absurd if the coal is ‘carbon neutral.’

  6. So the Elephant in the room is Hydrogen. One has to wonder why we dont build Thorium Molten Salt Reactors at major airports to generate the power needed to produce hydrogen on site. That seems 1to make more dense than burning food to feed airliners. TMSRs are far safer than water cooled reactors, require simple containment measures, and if they spring a leak, the molten salt cools to a solid and you pick it up with a shovel without worrying about airborne fallout

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