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Flightpath ‘Sustainable Fuels for Aviation in Europe’

On 27 November, the final full-day event of EU H2020 project FlightPath ‘Sustainable Fuels for Aviation in Europe’ took place in Brussels. The conference was organised by the European Commission, SENASA, FlightPath, ARTFuels and Airport Regions Conference.

The first topic addressed at the conference was the policy framework for SAF. The transport sector, particularly aviation, is particularly challenging to decarbonise. Nevertheless, there is the ambition to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. There is no single solution to decarbonise mobility – all options need to be explored and applied to the different transport modes requiring, most likely, different technological solutions. On renewables and biofuels, the current EU regulatory framework offers clear guidance on the way forward, however, additional measures are necessary to deliver the Green Deal.

At the global level, ICAO provides a framework for SAF as well. The Second ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (2017) endorsed the 2050 ICAO vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuels and called for a significant proportion of conventional aviation fuels to be substituted with SAF by 2050. In addition, Annex 16, Volume IV of CORSIA is related to CORSIA eligible fuels and it was requested at the A39 that CORSIA offsetting requirements could be met via the use of SAF.

To inject SAF into the market represents some challenges, particularly when it comes to building sufficient production capacities and technologies and redirecting the fuel to the aviation sector. SAF will always be more expensive than conventional aviation fuel, unless a carbon tax is implemented. Over the next five years, the main production capacity for renewable fuels in Europe will come from HEFA (oils and fats), part of which can cover SAF demand.

Other challenges were outlined as well, particularly the different RED II implementation national regulations that can drive to different regulatory frameworks and applicable SAF incentives within the European states. There is currently a lack of co-ordination and discussion among European states regarding the implementation of SAF-related policies and possible market interactions. In addition, co-processing offers the biggest short-term SAF supply potential in terms of costs, as uses existing refineries. However, it is currently not part of the recognition process of sustainability certification schemes.

In this context, policy alternatives to reach the right volumes of SAF were explored, ranging from cap and trade systems, modulation of air traffic charges and green tickets to blending mandates. Non-mandates policies can help but do not have a significant effect. Low-level blend mandates as well would have a small effect, if not negative when it comes to feedstocks. Whereas, high-level blend mandates (e.g. 50 per cent) would destroy EU aviation competitiveness and would create a situation we are not prepared for.

Finally, to address the challenges mentioned above, it was stated that it would be necessary to develop a set of stable European regulations, built on clear objectives, containing robust Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)/validation methodology and that is neutral towards conversion technology and raw materials; create EU and national policies that support SAFs initiatives that will drive the creation of additional SAFs production capacity in Europe; stimulate the production and availability of raw materials. Support mechanisms must also cover additional costs for products delivered into market. The frontrunners in Europe build up a European market for sustainable fuels, before implementing blending obligations to get the non-willing in action.