Singapore Air Show

Airlines Find Use for Sustainable Aviation Fuel

 - February 2, 2020, 12:00 PM
A Bombardier demo aircraft is fueled with SAF at NBAA-BACE 2019. The industry is embracing sustainable aviation fuel and making it available as business jets head to important events, such as EBACE, the NBAA show and last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has been slow to take off. However, amid an intensifying focus on climate change, manufacturers are determined to make rapid progress in the coming years, with many expecting the subject to be a significant theme at the Singapore Airshow.

Asia’s huge position in the global air market makes it an important factor in the industry’s push toward SAF, with manufacturers expanding their plans for the region. For example, while Airbus offers the option of delivery flights powered with SAF from its centers in Toulouse, France; Mobile, Alabama; and soon, Hamburg, Germany. It now envisions extending this option to Asia, specifically to its Chinese facility in Tianjin, according to Tony Derrien, sustainable aviation fuels project manager at the European aerospace giant.

The company is also collaborating with local partners in Malaysia to look at the possible production of alternative SAF in the country, Derrien added. This would cover fuels that reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 to 65 percent and are produced without making a negative impact on the environment. More broadly, the company is pursuing developments in SAF through a number of avenues, Derrien said, including the use of SAF for its own internal flight operations, supporting the certification of higher blend rates and raising awareness among decisionmakers.

OEM Efforts

Gulfstream expects sustainability to be a focus at the Singapore Airshow, said Charles Etter, technical fellow for environmental and regulatory affairs at the General Dynamics subsidiary. He said the event is "known for its environmentally friendly practices," with the 2020 exhibition the first to be fully solar-powered.

"Beyond that, we intend to discuss sustainable aviation fuel and our use of it during the show," Etter added.

The company has worked on SAF through various efforts. In 2011, a Gulfstream G450 was the first business jet to cross the Atlantic powered by the fuel, while the company receives a supply of SAF from World Fuel Services for daily operations from its Savannah, Georgia base. This work accelerated in 2019, Etter said, when the company made its first sale of SAF to a customer in its Long Beach, California maintenance and completions facility.

SAF is a drop-in fuel. Etter said that Gulfstream’s blend of 30 percent SAF and 70 percent traditional jet A fuel—produced by World Energy—meets the same fuel specifications as Jet A with additional environmental benefits. Each gallon used saves at least 50 percent in CO2 emissions on a lifecycle basis when compared with petroleum-based fuels, he added.

For Asia to be a true driver of SAF, a number of options should be considered, Etter said, including targeted mandates that direct the use of the fuel, steps directed at investment in SAF production plants, and the implementation of long-term policies that support the required infrastructure development.

Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator 777 will fly to the Singapore Airshow on SAF, said Paul McElroy, a spokesperson for the US manufacturer, and the company expects to discuss its efforts in the area during tours of the airplane. Boeing has worked in SAF in various ways in recent years, including collaborating with airlines, engine manufacturers and others to develop technical specifications for the fuel.

SAF is virtually identical to jet A, so it can be used and blended with conventional fuel without any changes to infrastructure or aircraft, McElroy added. Indeed, "some approved sustainable fuels perform better than conventional jet fuel due to their higher energy density."

There are significant challenges ahead for SAF. McElroy highlighted the need to increase supply and lower production costs to make SAF price competitive with conventional fuel. However, he said that Boeing and other companies "are actively working to catalyze production," and pointed to a range of initiatives on the policy front.

Boeing has focused its Asia-Pacific efforts on China, Japan, and Australia, said Sean Newsum, the company’s director of environmental engineering. It worked with Hainan Airlines, for example, to fly the first passenger flights on sustainable fuel in China, which was produced from waste cooking oil by Sinopec Corporation.

A Bombardier spokesperson said the biggest challenge would be "overcoming the misconceptions surrounding SAF and its availability." While the fuel still is not widely available, "our industry is dedicated to ensuring that this changes." The spokesperson said the use of SAF is steadily growing worldwide, while initiatives like the Business Aviation Commitment to Climate Change represent proactive measures towards building a sustainable future.

Bombardier now offers SAF from one of its Canadian facilities, the spokesperson said, with the company working to make the fuels the standard in its day-to-day operations.

"In 2020, we will continue our efforts, actively participating in industry events that will focus on how to accelerate the fuel's" adoption and use as well as provide important opportunities to demonstrate that business aviation continues to take seriously its responsibility for reducing climate-changing emissions, the spokesperson added.

Gulfstream has seen "tremendous growth in acceptance of these fuels" since 2011, Etter said.

"We’re seeing our customers ask for it, too," he added. "I would imagine that in five to 10 years, SAF will no longer be new and novel, but the norm."

SAF is a major focus for operators in the region. A spokesperson for Singapore Airlines noted, "There is great potential for the increased use of SAF in the industry."

The airline has worked on SAF in a number of areas, the spokesperson said, for example conducting a joint study on the fuel with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore in 2015 and operating a series of 12 flights from San Francisco to Singapore in 2017 as part of a green package that combined the use of SAF, optimized air traffic management measures and fuel-efficient aircraft.

The spokesperson added that SAF can be used as a drop-in fuel with no modifications to the aircraft engine and fuel infrastructure, though pointed to the challenges identified by Boeing's McElroy.

"Overcoming those challenges would require both investment and partnerships with other stakeholders at the local, regional and industry levels," the spokesperson said.