Cleaner burning aviation fuels poised for takeoff

Washington D.C. Correspondent
Source: Rystad Energy • The production scenarios range based upon different assumptions on feedstock availability, status of tax credits and rate of technology change.

Clean jet fuel production is expected to surge in the United States in the next 10 years aided by rapid advances in technology, generous federal incentives and growing demand from airlines, according to new projections from Oslo-based consultancy Rystad Energy.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a catch-all term for lower-emitting liquid fuels (usually 60 to 70% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional jet fuel) made from a range of materials and processes. The primary sources today include waste cooking oil and fat, as well as corn and soybeans. This clean jet fuel can replace or be blended with traditional jet fuels made from kerosene.

With aviation responsible for about 2% of U.S. CO2 emissions, SAF is seen as a “critical near-term solution” for reducing emissions from the sector, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Last year, at least half a dozen facilities produced about 1,700 barrels of oil equivalent per day of SAF, less than 0.1% of the 195,000 barrels of oil equivalent President Joe Biden wants the country to be producing per year by 2030, according to Rystad.

Meeting that goal will require a massive scale up in demand, advances in technology and policy incentives, including the tax credits in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

SAF production could increase anywhere between roughly 110,000 and 288,000 barrels a day by 2030, Rystad finds. For comparison, this would represent between roughly 7% and nearly 20% of the 1.5 million barrels of jet fuel the U.S. consumed a day in 2022.

In the above chart, 2016 is the first year any SAF production was recorded in the U.S., but 2022, the year IRA was enacted, marked the first time production started to grow such that the line departs sufficiently from zero.

The ranges of potential growth in the three scenarios vary based on a few key factors, according to Rystad: relative availability of the raw feedstock that goes into making the fuel, continuation of existing tax incentives and technology advancements.

A total of 36 SAF projects have been announced in the U.S. to date, including 28 new, not yet operational ones. The new projects, Rystad said, “offer a glimpse into the ambitious future envisaged for the country’s SAF sector, positioning it as a global frontrunner.”