Will sustainable aviation fuel transform the travel sector?

Plane at stand, one day it will use SAF rather than aviation fuel

We’ve all heard varying media reports in the past about the environmental cost of air travel, and even the most vociferous supporter of flying will have to concede that all flights contribute in some way to harming our planet, Measuring how much damage can be difficult, however, and it should be noted that it can also be misleading. As is the case with so much of what we read these days, not everything is crystal clear.

If you look at the air industry in general, you’ll see that its contribution to global CO2 emissions is relatively low. Just 2.1% of all human-generated emissions are from aviation, for example. In fact, 12% of our transport-related emissions come from planes, while more than 70% comes from road transport. An interesting picture, for sure, but it’s not the whole picture at all. This is because CO2 is only one of the greenhouse gases, and aviation emits more than just carbon dioxide.

The airline industry has been under increasing pressure to do something about this worrying situation, and steps are indeed being taken. One of the more impressive initiatives is in the development of electric-powered planes, something that was once thought unworkable but is gradually becoming a reality. It won’t be long, in fact, before electric planes become a familiar sight in our skies and on our runways.

Electrically-powered flights are more practical in terms of domestic journeys and short-haul trips, especially for the foreseeable future, but the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) will have implications for even the longest of journeys. It may be that very soon SAF will completely replace conventional airline fuel, which tends to be petroleum-based with certain synthetic fuel additives where necessary.

An infrastructure that doesn’t need to be changed

SAF is a different kettle of fish altogether, or a different litre of fuel, if you prefer. It’s manufactured from 100% renewable waste products and residual raw materials. SAF can effectively completely replace fossil fuels with no need to adapt engines or even the refuelling infrastructure. The major benefit of SAF is that it’s created from sustainable feedstocks such as non-palm waste oil, used cooking oils and solid waste from homes and businesses.

It’s easy to see why the switch to SAF is such an attractive one, of course. Not only will it dramatically lessen the carbon footprint of an industry that has done much to damage the planet, but it will also enable us to use materials that would once have required a careful disposal process. Chemically, SAF is very similar to tradition aviation fuel, but from an environmental standpoint they are chalk and cheese.

It’s calculated that SAF will reduce carbon emissions by up to 80%, although this will depend on a number of factors such as the supply chain used, the methods of production and the type of materials used. As always, there’s a drawback to all of this, but it’s one that will surely be surmountable in the coming years. This is the overall cost situation, which at the moment is higher than fossil fuel, but once the technology kicks into full swing the costs are likely to drop significantly.

Replacing petrol-powered cars with electric vehicles will require a great deal of work and expense because of the infrastructure of the refuelling process and the installation of batteries rather than traditional fuel systems, but with SAF it’s simply a drop-in operation. The tankers, storage facilities, fuel pipelines and more are already in place, all that needs to be changed is the actual liquid inside them.

If you have pangs of conscience when you hop on a holiday flight to Ibiza at the moment, imagine how guilt-free you’ll feel when you hear that the plane is powered by quantities of cooking oil that was once used to make chips for McDonalds. And of course, when you’re in Ibiza you can eat more chips and help the circle to continue. No guilt, no remorse, no self-reproach AND a big bowl of chips. What’s not to like?


Founded by Aneela Rose, Rose Media Group is based in West Sussex and works in the B2B PR sector. We provides specialist PR services to businesses in aviation, automotive, construction and more.

Aneela Rose

Aneela Rose

Aneela Rose is Head of PR at Rose Media Group overseeing all research and media related activity across B2B and B2C.

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