Sustainable Aviation Fuel takes flight: A 2023 Review


Statistically, your new year’s resolutions will have already slipped. But it is still worth looking back on 2023.

Global SAF production tripled in 2023, reaching approximately 600m litres compared with 300m in 2022. This remarkable growth trajectory demonstrates the industry’s maturing production capacity and its ability to meet the rising demand for clean alternatives to traditional jet fuel.

Manufacturers also demonstrated how their technology will be ready for SAF. Like buses, you wait years for a 100% SAF fuelled trans-Atlantic flight and then two come along.

In November Gulfstream flew a G600 powered by 100% SAF from World Fuel Services which flew from US to UK. Pratt & Whitney Canada, Honeywell, Safran and Eaton supported the flight.

The next week Virgin Atlantic flew a Boeing 787 from London to New York. UK government, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Virent, AirBp, Rocky Mountain Institute, Imperial College London and University of Sheffield were some of the names that came together to make the Virgin’s trans-Atlantic flight a success.

Airlines continue to support SAF. United Airlines’ ambitious commitment to use 100% SAF by 2050 demonstrates the industry’s growing dedication to decarbonisation. Airlines across the world including in Japan, Europe, United States, Australia and Asia-Pacific raced to secure their SAF supplies by entering into long-term agreements with SAF producers.

On the financing front, 2023 saw 39 companies fuelling their ambitions through 50 investment deals, raking in nearly $3bn from a diverse crew of supporters, from venture capitalists betting on the future to governments, especially the UK and US, prioritising a cleaner sky.

Meanwhile, 29 countries across the globe, from Colombia to Egypt, laid the groundwork for 12m tonnes of SAF production capacity. That’s enough to fill the tanks of 500,000 Boeing 737s.

The year also saw a significant shift in policy landscapes, marking a turning point in government support for the SAF industry. The European Union’s ReFuelEU Aviation directive stands as a bold initiative, mandating a progressive blend of SAF in aviation fuel supplies, starting with a 2% minimum in 2025 and culminating in a 63% requirement by 2050.

In the US, the alcohol-to-jet pathway received a major win as the Biden administration announced the decision to favour GREET methodology versus CORSIA to calculate carbon emissions.

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) landmark agreement on a global framework for reducing the carbon intensity of aviation fuels by 5% by 2030 underscores the international community’s commitment to tackling aviation emissions.

The momentum gained in 2023 will help this year. The next 12 months will see SAF production double, increased demand from airlines and governments and witness further policy advancements.

With 2023 the warmest year on record. This needs to happen. And faster. 

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