A new organization aims to spur Canadian development of sustainable aviation fuel, a technology advocates say is the airline industry’s best shot at reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
The Canadian Council for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (C-SAF) was launched Wednesday by a consortium of 60 airlines operating in Canada, both domestic (Air Canada, WestJet Airlines Ltd) and foreign-owned (British Airways, Cathay Pacific).
The group’s members also include airports, research institutions, and jet fuel producers and refiners.
Geoff Tauvette, executive director of C-SAF, said the organization’s mission is to develop targets and a strategy for a made-in-Canada sustainable aviation fuel industry.
“There is very little (sustainable aviation fuel) being used right now in Canada, not even a significant volume being produced today in Canada,” Tauvette said.
“But there’s a global race going on, and we would like to get the right processes in place and get it rolling to ensure we get a piece of the pie.”
Sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF as it is referred to in the industry, is non-petroleum based jet fuel made from renewable materials. Feedstocks can be anything from corn sugar to used cooking oils to organic municipal waste or even algae.
While SAF doesn’t eliminate aircraft emissions entirely, it is a lower-carbon solution that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 85 per cent compared with conventional jet fuel. It’s also a “drop-in” fuel, meaning it doesn’t require changes to aircraft or any special infrastructure at airports.
That makes it very attractive to the global aviation industry, which committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. SAF is something that can be implemented now, while other technological solutions _ such as hydrogen-powered or electric aircraft _ remain far off in the future.
“Aviation is going to be one of the hardest industries to decarbonize,” Tauvette said. “We don’t have a lot of options on the table today to be able to do so.”
Sustainable aviation fuel is still very much a fledgling industry, with only about 20 million gallons produced and used on a global basis last year.
The challenge is huge with the U.S. Department of Energy saying global demand for jet fuel is expected to rise to 230 billion in 2050, from 106 billion gallons in 2019.
Still, the global aviation industry has set a goal of 2.5 billion gallons of SAF produced by 2025. Tauvette said Canada should want to be a part of that, in part because this country’s significant agricultural resources means it has access to a large supply of potential feedstock materials.
However, SAF is significantly more expensive than traditional jet fuel. Tauvette said to make SAF competitive with traditional jet fuel, the industry will likely require government support. (For example, in California, SAF tax credits are available under the state’s low carbon fuel standard.)
“Definitely because this is a new market that we’re trying to create, likely it will need incentives of some sort,” Tauvette said.
Marion Town, director of climate and environment with the Vancouver Airport Authority, said the airport is excited to be part of the newly formed C-SAF.
She said the airport has already been studying ways of developing a made-in-B.C. supply of sustainable aviation fuel. The B.C. government has indicated it will require the aviation industry to progressively reduce the amount of carbon in its fuel, as part of the province’s clean fuel standard.
Town said she believes SAF holds “great potential” for B.C. and Canada as a whole, as long as industry can work together with government to develop a strategy to make it happen cost-effectively.
“What we have right now in Canada is the possibility to pull together this ecosystem and get the policy levers in place so that the cost will go down,” Town said.
“It doesn’t have to be a cost that will largely be borne by the person purchasing the flight.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2022.