Is it too good to be true? Is it all just greenwashing?

Not everyone likes Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The main arguments against it are: that the aviation industry uses it for Greenwashing; that it is not actually sustainable and that the feedstocks used for biofuels replace land that should be used for food or rewilding.

“The airline industry loves bringing up the magic word ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuel’ (SAF),” said Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe in June 2022. “But the problem with so-called sustainable aviation fuel is: it is not sufficiently available and/or mostly not really sustainable.”

Greenpeace argues that even if SAF males up 19% of airline fuels by 2040 – 81% of will still be fossil-fuel.

Extinction Rebellion UK protested against its use at Farnborough Airport in October 2021. “The term ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuel’ was coined by the aviation and fossil fuel industry to deceive the public and greenwash the utterly destructive nature of biofuels,” said Todd Smith, a protestor and former airline pilot.

Environmental groups are concerned about the feedstocks used in making SAF.

“Biofuels result in land grabs, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, rising food prices and land-use emissions which can be worse than the fossil fuel they are replacing,” said Extinction Rebellion’s Smith in 2021.

 These are valid concerns.

Palm oil and SAF

The earliest, most established, and cheapest way to make SAF is to use animal and vegetable fats as a feedstock. Producers like Neste buy used cooking oils and fats from abattoirs. But they could also use palm oil – that could at times be cheaper. Neste and other producers stress that this has never happened with SAF production and that tracking feedstock origin is a core pare of their business. (Neste has used palm oil from mature plantations to make green diesel in the past).

Ethanol to jet fuel

Some argue that ethanol production for diesel has led to food prices rising – and this could happen when ethanol is used to produce SAF.

What about electric and hydrogen aircraft?

The big advantage of SAF is that it can be used in more than 40,000 existing jet aircraft today. But we are big believers that electric and hydrogen aircraft will become a reality soon. We cover these on our sister website Revolution.Aero