Sustainable Aviation Fuels

From the recycling of decommissioned aircraft to the development of more green technologies, there have been many initiatives to decrease the environmental impact of aircraft operations across the globe. One major way in which operators seek to decrease their carbon footprint is through the use of more sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), those of which are known to be low in carbon. SAF fuels are typically manufactured with the use of renewable biomass and waste resources, allowing for similar performance as compared to petroleum-based jet fuel while effectively cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. In this blog, we will discuss sustainable aviation fuels, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the various compounds and mixtures being used to mitigate carbon emissions from aircraft in operation.

As discussed before, SAF is composed of biofuel that is well capable of achieving the power and propulsion needed for flight, all while emitting a decreased amount of emissions. While coming in a number of forms and utilizing various technologies, SAF can reduce emissions or even pave a pathway for net-negative GHG footprints. As the greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry make up around 9-12% of total GHG emissions sourcing from U.S. transportation, it is crucial that SAF implementation continues to grow.

Within the United States alone, upwards of 1 billion dry tons of biomass may be sustainably collected, allowing for up to 60 million gallons of low-carbon biofuels to be produced. Biomass may source from numerous materials, common resources including corn grain, oil seeds, algae, fats, oils, greases, agricultural residues, forestry residues, wood mill waste, municipal solid waste streams, wet wastes, and dedicated energy crops. With these resources alone, the fuel demand of the U.S. aviation industry can be met with ease, any extras being used for other modes of transportation. Additionally, high-value bioproducts and renewable chemicals may be produced as well, increasing the benefits of SAF.

While reducing carbon footprints is the most advantageous part of SAF implementation, there are other benefits as well. As farmers would be supplying a large amount of feedstock for the creation of SAF, such businesses can financially benefit while increasing their biodiversity and soil quality. Furthermore, biomass crops mitigate corrosion and increase water quality and supply, decreasing the rate of climate change. Lastly, the decreased amount of aromatic elements within SAF promotes better aircraft performance, ensuring that fuels are burned cleaner for lower harmful compound emissions.

As the United States currently serves as the largest producer of biofuels worldwide, the country has been able to both reduce GHG emissions while boosting jobs and the economy. As there are multiple steps to creating sustainable fuels, employment can be bolstered as jobs are created for feedstock production, biorefinery construction, manufacturing SAF infrastructure, and aviation. In order to meet the growing demand of aviation climate goals in the United States, more production pathways and feedstocks must be established. As research and development continues, we should see an increase of SAF implementation in the aviation market in the coming years, further ensuring that climate change goals are met.

As of recent years, there are many emerging SAFs that are coming about. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been working with SAF created from wet waste, that of which is a carbon-negative fuel. Carbon is often cheap and widely available from food waste, animal manure, and other high water content waste products. At the Los Alamos National Laboratory, meanwhile, SAF is being created with bio-based polycyclic alkane. With the use of ultraviolet light and catalysts, corn stover, bioenergy crops, and other biomass resources may be used to create bio-acetone that exhibits 12% more energy as compared to conventional jet fuel. Lastly, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is working with SAF manufactured from carbon-rich waste gases. With waste carbon monoxide captured from industrial processes, upgrades can be made with bacteria transforming into ethanol for the means of creating alcohol-to-jet SAF.

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