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On a flight path towards Sustainable Aviation Fuels

On 27 February, ERA took part in the International Petroleum (IP) Week and participated in a panel discussion on sustainable fuels, presenting the ‘Flight path towards SAF’. The panel took place in London and gathered energy experts as well as aviation, shipping, light and heavy duty vehicles professionals and stakeholders.

The IP Week took place over three days, from 25–27 February 2020. The programme featured an international line up of industry leaders, who discussed the latest trends in the sector. The focus for IP Week 2020 was to look at the transformational change that is needed in our approach to developing, supplying and using energy, how the pace of change must be accelerate in order for us to take the necessary action to meet the ‘dual challenge’ of meeting climate change targets and providing energy to all. Collaboration between industry, state and society is vital if we are to succeed in both endeavours.

In particular, when it comes to defining the industry’s role in delivering a low-carbon future, via innovation, technology and talent, it is necessary to look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs 7 and 13 define the need globally for all to have access to clean energy. Demand for energy continues to grow – by an estimated 25 per cent by 2040 - as the population expands, and energy delivers wellbeing and better living standards to all. Almost 3 billion still don’t have access to modern, safe energy for cooking, and almost a billion don’t have access to electricity and the services it provides.

The climate science is accepted and understood. We must remove harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to levels that limit the damage that global temperature rises can cause. This is a challenge and opportunity for all sectors of the global economy to address and all stakeholders must collaborate to deliver the transformation we need.

The objective of the IP Week was to address the following questions: What does this mean for the oil and gas industry and so what was the debate at IPW 2020? We must better explain why we are here now and what we provide to the world – an honest story is the one which explains we cannot simply turn off oil and gas tomorrow for the world. We should showcase what we are doing to transform how we provide energy to all. The human ingenuity, skill and talent in our industry should be acknowledge and it will be central to our future success. In the meantime, our operations today need to be as clean and efficient as technology will allow for. We must renew our focus and toughen targets to reduce greenhouse gases, not just in scope 1 and 2 but also in 3 – reducing the impacts of the products we produce. We must find a more effective way to price carbon that makes business sense. We must move more quickly to deploy and scale up carbon reducing technologies we understand today. We should think more laterally about how integration across the oil and gas value chains with other low carbon energy sources can fuel our future for cleaner power, heat and mobility.

During the session on Sustainable Aviation Fuels, an overview of the aviation industry and its achievements was given. Currently aviation represents 2 per cent of global GHG emissions and, as an industry, it has always done impressive things to improve efficiency. For example, technology is being developed and deployed every day; Operational performance is improving at a rate higher than our industry goals set and in fact at twice the rate of efficiency gain in the overall economy; and we are working to commercialise alternative energy, such as SAF.

Despite these achievements to cut CO2 for many years, the efforts are not enough as our passengers will expect even more from us. With concerns about climate change growing, this could have a significant impact on the aviation business if no action is taken. In fact, the efficiency improvements that the industry has been achieving so far are expected to be outpaced by the growth of air traffic.

The industry is taking its responsibility towards the sustainability of aviation and is doing so via a basket of measures which includes developing new technology, uptaking sustainable aviation fuels, improving operations efficiency and market-based mechanisms.

When it comes to technology, unfortunately, the technology is not available yet and will not be available for every flight segment in the long run. There are expectations that SAF will play a significant role in the mitigation of aviation CO2 emissions in the short term using existing global fleet. It is expected that SAF would reduce emissions by 80 per cent by continuing using the existing fleet, however, the current SAF production only represents 0.1 per cent of total fuel use by the industry. In addition to the low production challenge, the price is also very high.