SAF ‘most promising option’ to decarbonise aviation


IEA sees some optimism from policies focussed on SAF.

Efficiency improvements are vital to reducing aviation emissions, but they cannot solve the problem of aviation sector’s emissions alone by 2050. With demand for air travel expected to grow by around 4% per year until 2050, the development and deployment of lower-carbon fuels is urgent, said the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook 2023.

“Sustainable Aviation Fuels [SAF] look to be the most promising option: whether in the form of bio jet kerosene or synthetic kerosene, they are drop-in fuels that can be blended with conventional oil products at rates of up to 50%,” said the IEA.

“They also have the potential to be used on their own: manufacturers and airlines are currently testing flights that run solely on SAF.”

Energy demand in the transport sector rose by 4% in 2022, with oil accounting for 90% of this growth, mainly driven by the aviation sector, which saw 20% year-on-year growth.

However, the IEA said that SAF adoption does not come without its own sets of challenges. “SAF off-take agreements more than doubled in volume between 2021 and 2022, signalling growing demand, high costs remain a barrier to widespread adoption, and the announced project pipeline covers only 1-2% of global aviation demand by 2027,” it said.

Bio-kerosene production currently costs twice as much as conventional kerosene, and synthetic kerosene four-times more.

Expanding supply will help reduce costs, but the average price of SAF is still expected to be around two times higher than that of conventional kerosene in 2030.

However, IEA sees some optimism from policies focussed on SAF. The US Inflation Reduction Act provides tax credits for SAF and this support could enable production to reach 3bn gallons in 2030 and 35bn gallons by 2050, which would be enough to fuel all US flights by 2050.

SAF are also supported by EU Innovation Fund grants, Japan’s planned mandate for SAF to provide 10% of aviation fuel use by 2030, the UK Jet Zero pledge to decarbonise aviation by 2050, and ReFuelEU Aviation’s mandate for the share of SAF in aviation fuel to reach 70% by 2050.

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