European Airlines Signal Support for SAF Blending Quota

 - February 15, 2021, 1:37 PM

Europe’s largest airlines are acknowledging that an EU-wide obligation to blend a percentage of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) with conventional jet fuel could serve as a useful policy tool to increase the production of SAFs, which in turn will lead to lower costs to operators. However, they have expressed caution on the timing of introducing such a mandate and the blending quota.

“A blending mandate is a good idea in principle; however, there are clear conditions we must be aware of before mandating a [SAF uptake] quota,” Airlines for Europe (A4E) managing director Thomas Reynaert told AIN during a February 11 online launch event for Europe’s flagship sustainability initiative, “Destination 2050–A Route to Net Zero European Aviation.” Introducing compulsory blending “too soon—today—will have a major environmental and economical detrimental impact” because of poorly defined sustainability criteria of feedstocks, he said. 

“There are other ways of promoting the uptake of SAFs, which are being used in countries outside of Europe,” noted Reynaert. They include subsidies, uptake agreements, capital grants to encourage the deployment of SAF production facilities, and auctioning mechanisms where a central auctioning authority invites SAF producers to bid at the lowest price to supply a certain volume of the fuel to the aviation market over a certain period.

Reynaert also stressed the need for a coordinated approach to meeting environmental goals. “We need to avoid a diverging approach in terms of targets and policies between member states, which we see emerging in parallel,” he said. Norway already introduced a requirement that 0.5 percent of advanced biofuel be mixed with jet fuel sold starting in 2020 while the Dutch government has set a target of 14 percent by 2030. Germany has begun preparing legislation that calls for a 0.5 percent blend with power-to-liquid fuels from 2026, increasing to 2 percent by 2030.

Earlier this month, ministers from eight European countries—Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden—called on the European Commission to boost the supply and demand for SAF in the EU. “The potential of synthetic aviation fuels, in addition to advanced sustainable biofuels, is clear,” they wrote in their joint letter. “The challenge is to make use of the current momentum by providing for a clear long-term perspective so as to contribute to a scalable SAF marketplace. A European blending mandate for SAF can achieve this.”

The European Commission plans to unveil a new legislative initiative called “ReFuelEU Aviation – Sustainable Aviation Fuels,” which would include a mandate for a minimum SAF blending level, in the coming weeks.

Montserrat Barriga, director-general of the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), told AIN she welcomed the ReFuelEU Aviation initiative because it represents the stable policy framework needed to promote the use of SAFs to help decarbonize air transport. But, she cautioned, the trade body is “not able to support or come up with a figure [for a minimum blending quota] because there is simply not enough supply.”

Aerospace body ASD Europe supports a blending mandate, civil aviation director Vincent De Vroey affirmed. “This is one of the examples where we believe the policymakers need to work with the industry.” Policymakers, he added, can provide support in terms of the mandate itself, but “also in terms of public funding, for instance from the Covid recovery programs, to incentivize production and uptake of these fuels.”

Destination 2050 is a cross-industry initiative, launched by A4E, ERA, ASD Europe, ATM industry body CANSO, and airport lobby group ACI Europe. It details a roadmap to reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent from all flights within and departing from the “EU+”—covering EU27, the UK, and the four EFTA countries—compared with the 2018 baseline by 2030 and to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The report calculates that using SAFs could achieve emission reductions of up to 46 percent, including a 12 percent CO2 reduction from the effect of the more costly SAF on demand.